Ahern and Blair vow to press ahead

If the Northern politicians do not set up a powersharing Executive by November 24th, the Irish and British governments will take…

If the Northern politicians do not set up a powersharing Executive by November 24th, the Irish and British governments will take over their responsibilities and implement the Belfast Agreement to the maximum possible extent, the Taoiseach said in Armagh yesterday.

Speaking after his meeting with British prime minister Tony Blair, at Navan Fort outside Armagh, Mr Ahern urged the Northern parties to avail of the opportunity to take democratic control of the institutions to which they had been elected in 2003.

"We want them to engage with one another and everyone else in a positive way. 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," said Mr Ahern.

"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," said the Taoiseach.

"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," he added.

Mr Ahern refused to be drawn on the details of how the two governments would work the agreement in the absence of an executive, but he emphasised the firm partnership and joint stewardship exercised over the peace process by the two governments.

"I commend the prime minister's determination 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."

Mr Ahern emphasised that the people of Ireland, North and South, had voted overwhelmingly eight years ago for the Belfast Agreement, which had a devolved partnership government in the North as one of its key elements.

"Today we are placing Northern Ireland's 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."

Mr Blair told the press conference that the question was whether the political parties in the North wanted to take their role in the implementation of the Belfast Agreement or whether the two governments would have to step into the breach.

"Be in no doubt. At the conclusion of the period we either resolve to go forward on the basis of mature democracy or we call time on this and seek another way to go.

"Two things must be understood. There can be no room for compromise or ambiguity on the commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Political argument is the only means of persuasion.

"On the other hand, however, there can be no way forward that does not recognise the legitimate aspirations of nationalists and republicans for a united Ireland, and give expression to it through partnership, North and South."

Mr Blair said the essence of the Belfast Agreement was valid, so the only question was how it was going to be implemented.

"The option is whether the dynamic is driven by a hale and hearty democratic mandate derived from the people or by a necessarily more rigid will imposed from outside. We, the two governments, can't exercise that option. Only the people and parties in Northern Ireland can."

He added that it was a sense of futility about staying in the past and a desire to be part of the future that had brought the process such a long way. That mood had already had a very beneficial effect.

"Look at Britain and Ireland. Today we are allies. Today we engage in common purpose in Europe. Today our rivalry is found in a healthy competition for which economy is more vibrant. Today there is a confidence and vitality in our relationship that has enabled us, after almost 70 or 80 years of mistrust, to work together to carry this process forward. And to do so not as surrogate leaders of warring tribes but as friends."

Mr Blair said that the framework being set out, beginning with the recall of the Assembly, would only work if the parties chose to use it for proof of good faith, not to themselves or their own community, but to the community of the other. Unionism would have to show republican and nationalist sentiment that it was serious about its commitment to share power, and republicanism had to show unionism that the culture of violence was something it was determined to put in the past.