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10 August 2001


"I want to begin my comments this afternoon by paying tribute to the politicians from all parties who have been - and still are - engaged in the painstaking, painful process of inching towards the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"In the past week, since the Governments published their joint proposals, there has been passionate debate. As a politician, I recognise that this passion and frustration has expressed itself in some harsh words on all sides.

"But I also recognise as many of you in the media and many members of the public do - that if you look beneath the words you see significant progress.

"Both Governments knew that there would be parts of our proposals which were difficult for different parties, for different reasons.

"But we were very encouraged to see that the package was not rejected indeed it was generally seen as having the potential for all to move forward together.

"It is because of that potential and the fact that we are, I believe, tantalisingly close to being in a different world here in Northern Ireland that I believe parties should be given more time.

"As so often in Northern Ireland, we have reached an immovable date. I know that many people who do not find politics absorbing may groan at the prospect of going past that date. But I believe that dates are here to serve the people and not the other way round.

"It is now clear that the Assembly cannot elect a First and Deputy First Minister before Sunday. In that case, I would then be obliged by section 32(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to propose a date for the next Assembly elections. This would be against a background where, it is true, that we have not yet secured the final agreement we were seeking. But since we and the Irish Government published our proposals on 1 August for completing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, there has been significant progress. The proposals have been welcomed and endorsed by several of the pro-Agreement parties. I believe we have made progress on policing. The IRA's agreement with the IICD of a method by which they will put their arms completely and verifiably beyond use is a very significant step which has been welcomed by all.

"It has been put to me that, in these circumstances, at a delicate moment in the political process, when discussions are still continuing and the parties are still digesting the two Governments' proposals, it would be against the interests of the peace process to plunge Northern Ireland immediately into an election campaign, and the more polarised political atmosphere that that would inevitably entail.

"I have therefore decided to make an order under the Northern Ireland Act 2000 suspending devolved government in Northern Ireland. The Order comes into effect at midnight tonight, and I hope that the period of suspension will be very short.

"I have conveyed this decision to the Irish Government. Their Foreign Minister, Brian Cowen, has proposed, and I have agreed, that we should meet tomorrow morning here at Hillsborough to review the situation. I hope and believe that the necessary review can be completed very quickly, and that I can lift the suspension and restore the situation before the end of the weekend."


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