Agreement at St. Andrews
Over the past three days in St Andrews we have engaged intensively with the Northern Ireland political parties with a view to achieving the goal we set in Armagh in April, which is shared by all the parties and the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland: the restoration of the political institutions. We believe that the transformation brought about by the ending of the IRA's campaign provides the basis for a political settlement.
Our discussions have been focused on achieving full and effective operation of the political institutions. When we arrived in Scotland a limited number of outstanding issues remained to be resolved, including support for and devolution of policing and the criminal justice system, changes to the operation of the Agreement institutions, and certain other matters raised by the parties or flowing from the Preparation for Government Committee. The two Governments now believe that the agreement we are publishing today clears the way to restoration.
Power sharing and the political institutions
Both Governments remain fully committed to the fundamental principles of the Agreement: consent for constitutional change, commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, stable inclusive partnership government, a balanced institutional accommodation of the key relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South and within these islands, and for equality and human rights at the heart of the new dispensation in Northern Ireland. All parties to this agreement need to be wholeheartedly and publicly committed, in good faith and in a spirit of genuine partnership, to the full operation of stable power-sharing Government and the North-South and East-West arrangements.
Following discussion with all the parties, we have made an assessment of practical changes to the operation of the institutions and we are publishing today a clear outline of these. The British Government will introduce legislation in Parliament before the statutory November deadline to enact these changes, once parties have endorsed the agreement and agreed definitively to restore the power sharing institutions. Details of these changes are set out in Annex A.
Policing and the rule of law
We have consistently said that support for policing and the rule of law should be extended to every part of the community. We believe that all the parties share this objective. Notwithstanding the right of every political party to hold the police to account, we believe that there are fundamental principles of support for the police and the courts which underpin any democratic society.
We believe that the essential elements of support for law and order include endorsing fully the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the criminal justice system, actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board.
Discussions on the devolution of policing and justice have progressed well in the Preparation for Government Committee. The Governments have requested the parties to continue these discussions so as to agree the necessary administrative arrangements to create a new policing and justice department. It is our view that implementation of the agreement published today should be sufficient to build the community confidence necessary for the Assembly to request the devolution of criminal justice and policing from the British Government by May 2008.
Human Rights, Equality, Victims and other issues
Both Governments have also discussed other matters raised by the parties. Some of these relate to the final implementation of the Agreement and others have been raised in the context of the Preparation for Government Committee. The British Government has also agreed to take forward a number of measures to build confidence in both communities and to pursue a shared future for Northern Ireland in which the culture, rights and aspirations of all are respected and valued, free from sectarianism, racism and intolerance. Details of all these issues are set out in Annex B.
Financial package for the newly restored Executive
The Governments are also committed to working with the parties to establish the most favourable possible financial climate for a newly restored Executive. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister for Finance will meet delegations from the First and Deputy First Minister to take this forward. Details of how this might be achieved are set out in Annex C.
We believe that all parties should be able to endorse this agreement and to implement it in good faith, building the trust and confidence necessary for a stable and lasting settlement. We have set out a fixed timetable for the implementation of this agreement in Annex D and have asked parties, having consulted their members, to confirm their acceptance by 10 November. Following endorsement of the St Andrews agreement by the parties the Assembly will meet to nominate the First and Deputy First Minister on 24 November. Between that date and restoration of the Executive on 26 March the new Programme for Government Committee will agree all the necessary arrangements relating to ministerial responsibilities, ensuring that d’Hondt can be run and the Executive can operate immediately.
Verification and compliance mechanisms relating to the Assembly already exist, as set out in the agreement between the Governments published in May 2003 and in the Belfast Agreement. The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach are determined that default by any one of the parties following restoration of the Executive should not be allowed to delay or hinder political progress in Northern Ireland.
The Governments have made clear that in the event of failure to reach agreement by the 24 November we will proceed on the basis of the new British Irish partnership arrangements to implement the Belfast Agreement.
It is clear to us that all the parties wish to see devolution restored. It is also clear to us that all parties wish to support policing and the rule of law. We hope they will seize this opportunity for bringing the political process in Northern Ireland to completion and establishing power-sharing government for the benefit of the whole community.