06/08/2008

'Joint' Bid To Recall Assembly Possible

A top Ulster Unionist member has come out in support of an SDLP call to convene a special meeting of the Stormont Assembly.

The UUP's Deputy Leader Danny Kennedy has admitted his party share SDLP concerns over what they are calling "a growing crisis at Stormont".

SDLP leader Mark Durkan has already sought an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly to address the fact the Stormont Executive has not met formally since June.

He drew attention to the DUP and Sinn Fein being at "loggerheads" over a range of issues including the devolution of policing, academic selection, rural planning and the future of the former Maze prison.

The SDLP believe recalling all 108 elected members would increase the pressure on the Office of First and Deputy First Minister to call an Executive meeting.

The Assembly is currently in recess for the summer and is not scheduled to meet again until early next month.

Mr Durkan's initiative would require the backing of at least 30 MLAs to enforce the issue. The SDLP has 17 representatives in the Assembly.

Therefore, support would be required primarily by the Ulster Unionists and the Alliance Party.

Danny Kennedy has now said his party would give the matter serious consideration if the SDLP made a formal approach for support but questioned the logistics of such a move.
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"Quite a number of Assembly members are abroad on holiday or are on leave at the minute and we would have to consider whether it would be justified bringing back from holidays at public expense MLAs from various parts of the world and what benefit that would actually have," he said.

"Though we do share the SDLP concerns. Three months [from the last Executive meeting to next scheduled meeting in mid-September], that is a very considerable period of inactivity and doesn't represent the process the hard pressed taxpayers expect from this Assembly."

Alliance Leader David Ford admitted he shared Mr Durkan's frustrations but questioned if the initiative could force proactive movement.

However, there are signs of movement on the "loggerhead" issues this week, with hints that the NI stadium issue is close to a resolution, for example.

NI Sports Minister, East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell has said the decision on the proposed Maze Stadium will happen within the next few weeks.

Mr Campbell made the statement at a reception for Linfield Football Club at Stormont on Tuesday night.

The DUP man stated he has been considering the plans with an open mind.

"I haven't yet come to a conclusion, but I'm going to in the next few weeks and I'm then going to make an announcement in the Assembly in the autumn," he said.

On Monday, the DUP and Sinn Fein made known that they had reached a form of agreement on the devolution of policing and justice powers - although a bid to have a 'middle-of-the-road' Minister appointed from the ranks of the Alliance party were dashed when Alliance Leader issued a firm rebuke citing a lack of consultation.

See: Adams Joins Debate On NI Policing Ministry

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