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Statement by Tony Blair on the St Andrews' Agreement, (24 November 2006)

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Text: Tony Blair... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Statement by Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, on the St Andrews' Agreement, (24 November 2006)


"Good Morning. I am having to give this statement since I will be leaving for the Scottish Labour Party Conference shortly and so I wanted to say some words before I went.

I, like other people, have been watching events at Stormont unfold on the television and there has obviously been an attempt by a paramilitary to try and disrupt the events at Stormont today. Instead of that putting us off progress towards democracy, it is precisely what should make us more resolute in consigning that type of activity to the past and making sure that democratically elected politicians are able to exercise their democratically given power, without paramilitaries of any sort interfering with it.

There has also been a certain amount of confusion as to exactly the status and the agreements that have been reached today. I should say that I have spoken subsequent to these events, just within the last half hour or so, both to Dr Paisley and to Gerry Adams. No move forward in Northern Ireland is easy, we have learned that in ten years, and it is fraught not because the people or indeed the leaders in Northern Ireland want it to be so, but because each step towards a different and better future is taken alongside the memory of a wretched and divisive past.

So it is not surprising that there are all kinds of arcane and seemingly convoluted debates about precisely the status of the ceremony in Stormont today. But sweep all that aside and what is clear is this. If Sinn Féin agree to the proper and full support of policing in Northern Ireland by the police service of Northern Ireland and to the rule of law, then the democratic Unionist Party will share power with them. Should the democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin remain after an election as the two largest parties - and of course that is a matter for the electorate - then following such an election Dr Paisley will be the First Minister of Northern Ireland and Martin McGuinness will be the Deputy First Minister. That is my understanding and that is the only basis upon which we can progress according to the St Andrews Agreement.

So put aside for a moment the legalistic debate and let us concentrate on the substance. If there is proper and full-hearted commitment to the police and the rule of law then there is full-hearted acceptance to power sharing and equality. And after all peace in return for power sharing is what this process from the Good Friday Agreement onwards has always been about. So everyone knows what they now must do, and despite all the difficulties, and we can see them again today very graphically, I found at St Andrews and have found since an underlying determination amongst the parties not to let this opportunity pass. I strongly urge all parties to use the Programme for Government Committee to debate and as far as possible resolve outstanding issues. Power sharing after all is not just about taking power but using it constructively. For that to happen, not merely the formal mechanisms but the atmosphere and sentiment are important. We don't just want devolution to happen, we want it to work.

St Andrews, if implemented in full, is now the agreed way to restoring the institutions in March. I therefore say do it, and in doing so let all the parties turn their minds also to the issues of concern to Northern Ireland's people - the economy, education, health, law and order - and show that the democratic process is alive and well and capable of delivering a better future.

So it really comes to this, as it has been since St Andrews some weeks ago. If St Andrews is implemented by all parties, we have a deal and the democratic institutions can be restored. If it isn't then we can't have it restored and we will look for another way forward. But we came to an agreement at St Andrews in good faith and that is the only way forward and the only way to a better future for the people in Northern Ireland.

Thank you."


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