St Andrews deal 'more significant than GFA' - Hain
The St Andrews Agreement has the potential to be more significant than the Good Friday Agreement, Peter Hain claimed today.
As Northern Ireland's politicians continued to study the agreement forged in Scotland on Friday, the British Secretary of State said the breakthrough had been astonishing.
Mr Hain also signalled that the British government had an open mind on one of the key remaining issues to be sorted out over the next weeks — whether there will be a referendum or a fresh Assembly election to endorse the deal.
"I do think this is potentially more significant for the reason that when the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated in 1998 the (Reverend Ian Paisley's) Democratic Unionists were outside the tent and Sinn Fein were only halfway in.
"We now have the potential for both parties to be fully signed up to power- sharing and republicans to join with other parties in signing up to policing and respect for the rule of law.
"On Friday a senior official who was deeply involved both in the 1998 negotiations and this week's in St Andrews told me he believed it was more significant."
The DUP, Sinn Fein and the other Northern Ireland parties have been given until November 10 to respond to the road map to devolution outlined by British prime minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on Friday.
If they agree to implement it, Mr Paisley and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness will be appointed Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers on November 24 — the deadline Mr Blair and Mr Ahern set for political progress.
If Sinn Fein changes its policy on policing at a special party conference and publicly endorses the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the final stages of the St Andrews Agreement will see power-sharing ministers nominated on March 14 and devolution 12 days later.
However, if any party defaults, the agreement will collapse and the Assembly will be wound up.
Mr Hain said: "It is important now that all the parties have a chance to consult their members.
"They have all signed up to the principles of the St Andrews Agreement but they have to consult their parties, complete negotiations on some of the outstanding issues and come back with a response on November 10.
"It is important people remember the deadline of November 24 remains in place. If this unravels, Stormont is dissolved.
"I am optimistic that will not happen, and I also have no doubt that one of the reasons that we had the agreement on Friday was the existence of that deadline."