North needs normal politics - Paterson

Fri, Jul 20, 2012, 01:00

THE NORTH needs to move to a more normal political system of government and opposition, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson said on a visit to Dublin yesterday.

He told the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) of his intention to publish a consultation paper shortly on this and other possible changes to be brought in by legislation at Westminster.

These include the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the length of Assembly terms and an end to dual mandates whereby Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) can also be Westminster MPs.

“We will also be asking whether it is desirable in principle for the institutions to move to a more normal system of government and opposition and, if so, how this might be achieved.

“As former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said in 2008, ‘There will come a time when that system will suffer because there is no natural opposition . . . there will come a time where people will say: You need an opposition, you need an us and them’. Both the prime minister and I have said that we would like to see this happen over time.

“But we are clear that any changes must first command widespread support across the community and be consistent with inclusive government at the heart of the [Belfast] Agreement.”

He added, in this context: “It is profoundly disappointing that we are still awaiting publication of the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy from the [powersharing] Executive.”

Members of Sinn Féin, who picketed the IIEA during Mr Paterson’s address, chanted as he was leaving: “Shame on you” and “Justice for political prisoners”. They were highlighting a number of cases, including that of Marian McGlinchey, formerly Marian Price, of Stockman’s Avenue, Belfast, who was detained in May 2011 after Mr Paterson revoked the licence on which she had been released in 1980 for IRA bombings in London, including that of the Old Bailey, in 1973.

Mr Paterson told The Irish Times: “What I would call on, in the case of Marian McGlinchey, is for her and her legal advisers and her political supporters to make a full submission to the Parole Commissioners so that they can make a determination. “I am absolutely not prepared to do what I am being accused of having done, and that is to override carefully established legal arrangements with an arbitrary political judgment.

“I respect the independence of the Parole Commissioners: as I understand it, they are waiting for the submission from the representatives of Marian McGlinchey.”

On the fallout from the trial for the murder of Michaela McAreavey in Mauritius, he said he had discussed the matter with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. “We all recognise this was an absolutely horrendous crime,” he said. “We would like to see those that perpetrated this appalling murder tried, convicted and imprisoned. From the beginning, our high commissioner [for Mauritius] has been heavily involved helping the family and I repeated again to the Tánaiste last night that our high commissioner is very ready to help in any way that is appropriate.”