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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 January 2006, 17:37 GMT
An alphabet of political issues
What does 2006 hold for the Northern Ireland political process? BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Gareth Gordon looks back as well as forward to explore an alphabet of issues.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern expressed surprise at the 'Stormontgate' affair
A is for Ahern: The Irish prime minister believed Sinn Fein leaders had prior knowledge about the Northern Bank robbery, even as they negotiated a deal to restore devolution.

Bertie Ahern shook his head like an exasperated parent and said he didn't fully understand why the so-called "Stormontgate spying" case had collapsed, but that it was "interesting!"

Yet he stands on the launch pad for yet another big push. But the really big fight he faces is the 2007 elections to the Dail or Irish parliament.

The question is in a tight finish - will he need Sinn Fein votes to help him?

Paul Berry
Assembly member Paul Berry took legal action
B is for Berry: From gospel singing blue-eyed boy to DUP outcast via a Sunday newspaper story concerning a "male masseur" (which he denies), no political fall was quite as spectacular - or bizarre - in 2005.

The year 2006 will see the drama move to the High Court where space on the public and press benches should be at a premium.

And it's not the only place internal DUP business may be aired in public. (See R for Rhonda).

C is for Cameron: At last a Conservative leader who may just give Labour something more to think about than the neighbourly dispute between numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street.

He even made Northern Ireland one of his first ports of call after his election proving beyond doubt that, even up close, he has at least as much charisma as a certain Mr B - and a better haircut!

If we wait long enough we may even find some substance.

And while the prospect of a Conservative government will please unionists, they may be spooked by all this talk of a liberal agenda.

D is for Durkan: It could have been foiled of Foyle.

But since landing a knockout blow on Mitchel McLaughlin in the general election, the SDLP leader is now a bona-fide big beast in his own right, continuing to savage the Shinners over on-the-runs (OTRs) right up to Christmas and beyond.

But the hard work is only beginning.

Sir Reg Empey
Sir Reg Empey became Ulster Unionist leader last year
E is for Empey: His party may have moved from the Big House to a bungalow but at least he's got the biggest room - for now.

Looking over one shoulder at Lady Sylvia Hermon and the other at David Burnside, Sir Reg Empey still looks to have the most difficult balancing act in politics.

He may have to wait for a DUP own goal - but they don't score many.

F is for Ford:Took a lead in the fight against OTRs but watched helplessly as the SDLP took most of the credit.

This is probably Alliance's lot - until it gets more votes.

At least David Ford got more media coverage last year - even if it was for the insubordination of Seamus Close over same sex civil partnerships, a row which also led to the resignation of the party chairman.

Sinn Fein President  Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is faced with some big issues
G is for Gerry: Apart from the Robert McCartney murder; the fall out from the Northern Bank robbery; the Foyle election result, Denis Donaldson and the OTR debacle, it was not a bad year to be Sinn Fein president.

After all, there were the party's centenary celebrations to act as a distraction (or was it the other way around?) and at least Gerry Adams succeeded in persuading the IRA to leave the stage.

Expect a slightly easier 2006, although there's still policing, the OTRs and the issue of those pesky spies to be dealt with.

NI Secretary Peter Hain
NI Secretary Peter Hain also has responsibility for Wales
H is for Hain: We huffed when we were told we'd have to share him with the Welsh but the publicity-loving secretary of state and his up-and-at-em team of ministers are just about as visible as many of us can take!

Peter Hain annoyed the unionists over the release of Shankill IRA bomber Sean Kelly and the demise of the Royal Irish Regiment's home battalions.

He annoyed everybody over OTRs, even if he did get a kicking in the House of Commons for his bother.

But like a rubber ball, he just comes bouncing back for more.

His resilience in the face of pressure sometimes seems more impressive than his grasp of detail and we hacks love his (very occasional) tendency to drop the ball.

I is for IMC and IRA:Somehow we can't think of one without the other.

The security minister may have jumped the gun (pardon the pun) in December, claiming the next IMC report would show the IRA was true to its word in ending criminality.

Lord Alderdice and friends will give their version in February and the early word is that they may not entirely concur.

J is for Justice: But as ever, no-one can agree on exactly what it is.

K is for Kennedy: Will Senator Ted meet Gerry Adams in Washington this St Patrick's Day?

L is for London: That's where lots of the action is likely to take place, at least initially, as the government and the parties begin again the painful process of (possibly) restoring devolution (see T for Talks).

Maze plans
How the proposed stadium complex at the Maze could look
M is for Maze: The government hopes the site of "Europe's most notorious prison" may yet house an 85m stadium - but only if the Irish Football Association says "yes".

A decision is expected by the end of the month. It's "50-50" say informed sources.

N is for Notice: Peter Hain has put our MLAs on theirs saying that if he does not see progress by the summer, he may stop their pay and allowances. The parties are not happy, but you can bet the idea is a sure-fire winner with the public.

O is for On-the-Runs: The much-unloved Northern Ireland Offences Bill was already struggling under the weight of opposition from the unionists, SDLP, Alliance, the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and even some Labour MPs, but Sinn Fein's rejection was the real hammer blow.

Back to the drawing board... or the bin... or they could keep going. A mess...

O is also for the Orange Order:Talks said to be continuing between the Order and the other Loyal Orders, who according to some sources want "to get the Orange off the hook".

The government knows that unless this problem is sorted, it has the capacity to de-rail "big picture" politics. Which brings us to...

P is for Parades Commission: It seems like a long way off but, yes, Ardoyne and Whiterock will come around again.

The make-up of the shiny new commission is at least brave, but the presence of two Portadown Orangemen may only give fresh impetus to an issue most of us thought was dead - Drumcree.

Q is for Queen: After three meetings with President McAleese - the latest in Hillsborough - 2006 could finally be the year when she makes her "historic" visit to Dublin.

They're said to be waiting for a positive development in the political process. Why?

R is for RIR:The DUP has staked a lot on getting decent severance payments for the 3,000 solders affected by the decision to disband the Home Service Battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment in August 2007.

The secretary of state is thought to be sympathetic but the Treasury, who must pay, is less so.

A decision is expected early February.

Rhonda Paisley with her father Ian
Rhonda Paisley failed to get a job as a DUP policy officer
R is also for Rhonda Paisley: She's set to take her father's party to an industrial tribunal for alleged sexual discrimination after she failed to get a job as a policy officer.

"Paisley versus Paisley" made a neat headline but many suspect its actually "Old DUP versus New DUP".

S is for Spy: Stakeknife, Denis Donaldson; Who's next? A plot by the Brits to destabilise us say republicans. On the other hand...

T is for Talks: Yes they're coming, though not until February at least when the IMC report is out of the way.

Expect a visit from Tony Blair and probably Bertie Ahern as well and then the pressure will well and truly be on with the DUP feeling the heat most.

U is for the UVF and UDA: Now that the IRA has made its seismic shift, will the loyalists follow suit?

V is for Victims:The government appointed an interim Victims Commissioner, Bertha McDougall, but the OTR bill will have undone much of the goodwill.

W is for Water Charges: They won't be here until 2007. Unless, that is, the assembly returns before then.

If it does, will our politicians put their money where their mouths are? Either way, the government wins.

X is for Elections: None scheduled for this year, and at least for the Ulster Unionists, and to a lesser extent the SDLP, that's probably a relief as they seek to come up with strategies to stop the Sinn Fein and DUP juggernauts.

Y is for Yawn: Which we'll all have to stifle during the aforementioned talks.

Z is for Zzzzzzzz...


SEE ALSO:
2005: The year in politics
29 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein rejects on-the-run bill
20 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland
'No deal made over spy charges'
14 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland
Does decommissioning mean peace?
28 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland
Major reform of local government
22 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Parades boss wants dialogue focus
01 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland
DUP celebrates with tea and buns
06 May 05 |  Election 2005


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