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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 19:31 GMT 20:31 UK
Paisley causes stir at Stormont
Martina Purdy
By Martina Purdy
BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent

DUP leader Ian Paisley's news conference following the failed attempt to nominate him as first minister caused such a stir, it's still being talked about in the corridors of Stormont.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness called it "bizarre" while Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey suggested the DUP was a party at "sixes and sevens."

What caused the stir was Mr Paisley's insistence several times that he wasn't going to sit down in a committee with either Sinn Fein or the Ulster Unionist Party as both "had links to paramilitaries". (The UUP recently formed a group with the PUP at Stormont.)

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley appeared to contradict party policy

Mr Paisley repeated the comment several times and towards the end of the news conference, his deputy Peter Robinson sought to clarify the matter by saying the party does already sit in committees with these parties and the issue is one of remit.

On Tuesday, at Stormont a DUP source repeated the line that the DUP did not oppose the committee in principle but had concerns about its remit.

This remark came as the Northern Ireland secretary announced he intended to proceed with the committee, and would make clear his proposals later this week.

But the plot thickened when the DUP issued a statement on Tuesday evening.

It said: "If the government forms a committee with one person from each party for the purpose of listing items and attempting to resolve them in the framework of that committee that is essentially negotiations and we will not be negotiating in that framework."

Support

This statement also caused a stir when it was noted that it was at odds with comments Peter Robinson made on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics on 13 May, when questioned by BBC NI political editor, Mark Devenport.

Mr Robinson said his party did support the idea of a committee and added: "The secretary of state suggested it in terms that are satisfactory to us.

"We believe that yes, it is necessary for the assembly to look at the issues which are an obstacle to devolution and how they can be removed... if parties aren't prepared to look at what the obstacles to devolution are and how they may be removed then what on earth are they into an assembly for and what on earth were they elected for?"

Behind the scenes, a tug of war clearly is going on over the committee as other parties make clear their views to Peter Hain.

Sinn Fein is pushing for party leaders to sit on this committee and for it to have a meaningful role in terms of restoring devolution.

It will be interesting to see how the DUP, Sinn Fein - along with the other parties - and the secretary of state work this one out.


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