» Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Northern Ireland

Asked about the Northern Ireland package that the Chancellor had mentioned in his Budget statement, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that the Chancellor would be meeting the parties in the round tomorrow at 10:30, and it was right that they should be the ones to hear the detail first. Asked where the meeting would take place, the PMOS replied that the meeting would be taking place in London.

The PMOS then gave an update on the Prime Minister’s meeting this afternoon with Ian Paisley. It was a good meeting, and the DUP clearly wanted devolution to happen at some point. The DUP clearly had some concerns, being prepared for Government for example, and we would try and address these concerns. But the Prime Minister could not have been clearer that he could not change the legislation, and that meant a decision to nominate Ministers had to be made by March 26th. That was the case because first and foremost it was in the legislation, secondly it was the basis on which people had voted, and the clear message on the doorstep was that people wanted their politicians to get on with it.

Asked if he was saying that the DUP had asked the Prime Minister for a suspension or a delay, the PMOS replied that he would not comment on what the DUP had or had not asked for. He was simply saying that as the DUP had said publicly, they had concerns about making sure that everybody was ready to govern. The important thing to come out of the meeting today was that the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that he had come to a settled view, which would not change, that the 26th was the deadline and he would not introduce fresh legislation to change that.

Asked if there was wriggle room in the financial package if the parties were not happy with the offer, the PMOS replied that the Chancellor would set out the financial package and it was up to the parties to react to that. But this would in no way change the deadline of the 26th. The deadline was there because this was the basis on which the election was called, it was the basis on which people voted, and everything we saw showed not only that people understood that, but also supported the March 26th deadline. Asked again if there was any room for manoeuvre in terms of the financial package on offer, the PMOS replied that the Chancellor would set out what the package was, and that would be that. The issues that people wanted dealt with were issues such as water rates and education. There was a chance for the Assembly to take responsibility for those issues come Monday. If there was not devolution, then that chance would go. The Prime Minister could not have been clearer that his settled view was that it should be decided by Monday.

Asked if Doctor Paisley made clear one way or the other whether he would nominate Ministers by Monday, the PMOS replied that the DUP would have party meetings over the next few days that would culminate in an executive meeting on Saturday afternoon. We had to respect this right, just as we respected the right of all other parties, to go through the proper procedures and make decisions, and that was what we would do.

Asked if the Chancellor would be meeting both parties together or separately, the PMOS replied that it would be a meeting of all parties together. All the parties that would make up the executive would be in the same room.

Asked if the Prime Minister had any plans to meet with the parties over the weekend, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister had no plans to meet with the parties.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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