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Statement by Bertie Ahern on the recalling of the Assembly, Armagh, (6 April 2006)

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Text: Bertie Ahern ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Statement by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), on the recalling of the Assembly, Armagh, (6 April 2006)


"The callous murder of Denis Donaldson earlier this week is a brutal reminder of Northern Irelandís tortured and tragic past.

Today here in Armagh is about putting that past behind us once and for all.

Itís about putting politics centre stage.

Itís about giving political responsibility back to Northern Irelandís politicians.

When Prime Minister Blair and I met in Dublin earlier this year, we said we wanted to see the restoration of devolved partnership Government in Northern Ireland as soon as possible this year.

In recent months, the parties have been asking the Governments to give direction and leadership.

We are now doing so and outlining our agreed strategy for the restoration of the Assembly and devolved government.

It is fitting that the location of this meeting and announcement is Navan Fort (or Emain Macha as it is known in Irish).

As the ancient capital of Ulster, it played a central role in the very early history of this island.

And so today, once again, this place of history is centre stage in the politics of this island.

The message of the Irish people in 1998 was clear.

They supported the Good Friday Agreement.

They endorsed the new arrangements and new politics of that Agreement.

Last year saw real, undeniable, progress. Progress many thought could never be achieved.

The time has now come to build on all of this and to move the process on.

Anyone with any knowledge of Northern Ireland knows that leaving things as they are is neither responsible nor feasible.

To do so is to store up difficulties for the future.

Nobody should want that.

And as two Governments we certainly donít want that.

Both the Prime Minister and I are united in our conviction that the devolved government of the Good Friday Agreement is what will best allow Northern Ireland to move on and to prosper.

Northern Ireland is a place of very special and difficult circumstances.

That is why we negotiated and agreed the Good Friday Agreement eight years ago next week.

The potential benefits of partnership government in Northern Ireland are obvious and real.

No one will disagree that devolved government can respond to local needs in a way that direct rule never can.

It offers the best hope to those who are most marginalised in society.

The best care for the sick.

The greatest opportunity to business.

The best future for the young.

And it offers the best hope of healing the deep division that is at the heart of Northern Ireland.

It is what the people of Ireland, North and South, voted overwhelmingly for eight years ago.

Partnership government is exactly what it says: a partnership. The two Governments cannot make it happen.

Each party must cross the threshold to Government voluntarily.

But what the Governments can do is help create the conditions that are most likely to enable partnership to succeed.

That is the responsibility that we are shouldering today.

Today, we are placing Northern Irelandís politicians back on the path to power.

We are giving them the opportunity to take power back into their own hands.

There is no more obvious responsibility for an elected politician.

When the Assembly is recalled on 15th May, its primary responsibility will be to elect a First and Deputy First Minister and establish an Executive within six weeks.

We believe that the arguments for forming a partnership government are compelling.

And we want to see this achieved.

There is a particular onus on those parties with the largest mandate and who will occupy the positions of leadership in a restored Executive.

They acquired this enhanced status at the elections in 2003.

They are now being asked to exercise this responsibility in a positive way.

We want them to engage with one another and everyone else to give this initiative a chance.

They may not have an opportunity again for quite some time if they cannot make it work on this occasion.

It is time, therefore, to talk. And it is time to agree.

People are entitled to firm assurances, if there is deadlock, that it will not be allowed to continue indefinitely.

The restored Assembly will, therefore, have a limited period of time to form an Executive.

We have reached a point in the process where the parties must decide.

We are giving them a reasonable but finite time to do so.

If an Executive cannot be successfully formed in the time available, then the Governments are also agreed that we will exercise our responsibilities to ensure that the Agreement is implemented to the maximum possible extent for the benefit of all communities.

We will do so together because at that point it will be the only way to advance a process to which we are both firmly committed and in which we have already invested enormous personal energy and determination.

I have given some of the best years of my political life to this process.

It is an investment that I would happily make over and over again in the interests of peace and agreement on this island.

The challenge now is to finish the job.

We believe that this is possible. And that is why we are here today.

Our joint strategy represents the best opportunity to pave the way for the restoration of devolved government this year.

No reasonable person could see it as anything other than an honourable and fair attempt to enable the parties do the work they were elected to do.

We are today urging Northern Irelandís politicians to take this opportunity.

And we hope they will do so.

The firm partnership and joint stewardship of the two Governments have proved vital to the peace process.

I commend the Prime Minister determinationís to see this process brought to successful finality.

Together, both he and I will continue to do all in our power to give effect to the will of the people of this island."


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