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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 April 2006, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Hard tasks for recalled assembly
Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

The government is expected to publish its emergency legislation for the revived Stormont in the coming week.

It is understood the measure will be a broad brush giving the secretary of state powers to change the assembly's standing orders, but not spelling out the detail, which is still being worked upon by civil servants.
Stormont
The Stormont executive has been suspended since October 2002

The SDLP is concerned that Peter Hain wants to take what it terms "vice regal powers" to alter the Good Friday Agreement. Mr Hain denies this.

The law is due to be rushed through the Commons by the end of the month, then to clear the Lords by early May.

This will set the scene for the first sitting of the new assembly on 15 May. Many assembly members will find themselves double booked on the big day.

In the morning, they will head to Stormont to sign the register as unionist, nationalist or other. Then in the afternoon, some will travel to Hillsborough to attend Peter Hain's garden party, presuming they are not delayed by an opening day filibuster.

In charge of the proceedings will be North Down assembly member Eileen Bell. Appointing her, Peter Hain said she got on with everyone and would do a good job.

Eileen Bell could face a tough task keeping in line the notoriously fractious assembly members - there could be skirmishes over the appointment and/or election of a speaker

Mrs Bell had already stood down as Alliance deputy leader and announced she would not contest her seat at any future election. So she sees this as a fitting final chapter to her long career.

Eileen Bell could face a tough task keeping in line the notoriously fractious assembly members. There could be skirmishes over the appointment and/or election of a speaker.

There will certainly be no agreement over the election of a first and deputy first minister. And that will be just the start of the problems.

Peter Hain has offered assembly members the chance to discuss bread and butter issues like education, the economy, council re-organisation and water charges.

Peter Hain
Peter Hain "was already moderating the talk of joint stewardship"

But he is making no guarantees that his ministers will change tack if faced by a decisive vote from the local politicians.

The DUP, who won't join a power sharing executive with Sinn Fein, want to talk about the issues.

But nationalists and republicans see the government's offer as an insult.

Speaking on the BBC's Inside Politics, SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell said his party was not interested in taking part in what he termed "phoney committees".

He described Peter Hain's offer as an "insulting" invitation to "pre-school play group politics".

That won't be music to the government's ears, especially as the SDLP control the 40% of nationalist votes necessary to secure cross-community consent for a debate.

Dr McDonnell appeared more interested in any discussions which would further the talks process.

While the government will be concerned about nationalist non-cooperation with the start of their six month process, loyalists fired another shot across their bows about what might happen at the end

Some Ulster Unionists favour moving the talks into a public arena via Stormont debates. But the SDLP deputy leader did not sound convinced that holding the talks on camera would serve much purpose.

While the government will be concerned about nationalist non-cooperation with the start of their six month process, loyalists fired another shot across their bows about what might happen at the end.

The UVF confirmed reports of their disquiet about talk of "joint stewardship" between London and Dublin by telling the Belfast Telegraph that they would make no statement about standing down until they see how the land lies after 24 November.

Peter Hain was already moderating the talk of joint stewardship within two days of the prime ministers' Armagh news conference.

Watch to see the governments soft pedal this further as they strive to keep the loyalists on track.




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