Murphy Makes Last-Ditch Bid for a Solution
Byline: CIARAN McKEOWN Political Correspondent
SECRETARY of State Paul Murphy went on a two-pronged offensive yesterday, publicly playing down postponement of the May 29 Assembly election, while privately pursuing the talks process which could yet make postponement unnecessary.
Dissolution of the Assembly will proceed regardless on Monday. Some MLAs have already cleared their desks. Their parliamentary privileges cease at midnight on Monday, but their salaries will run for another month.
Whether any compensatory payment might be paid during a ''limbo'' period until a postponed election was not clear last night, and would probably have to be part of a Bill to postpone. Departing MLAs are also eligible for a redundancy payment of around pounds 19,000, as well as for resources to compensate redundant staff.
Mr Murphy was understandably anxious to avoid focusing on the issue, but conceded that a Bill to move the election date could go through Parliament within a couple of days of a decision to that effect.
Parties have declared themselves in favour of the election going ahead: how could they do otherwise? But the Government was yesterday echoing the concern, first raised by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble weeks ago, that there was little point in an election unless it were to a ''meaningful'' body.
Mr Trimble has suggested that the election go ahead but that the Assembly should operate in ''shadow'' mode similar to the form in which it existed at first.
But the feeling yesterday was that that would leave critical uncertainty in the talks process while encouraging an even more polarised election process.
Mr Murphy denied that the Prime Minister had taken a gamble by going outside the confidential talks process to increase the pressure on republicans.
''He knew what he was doing. It has been a very disappointing fortnight,'' he said.
Was that his advice to the Prime Minister?
''No, it was his decision, but I agree with what he did,'' Mr Murphy said.
Can much or most of the unpublished blueprint go ahead without devolution?
''Yes, except for those issues which are linked to clarity, such as normalisation and aspects of the Police Act,'' he said.
This means that provisional agreement on such issues as ''on-the-runs'', downsizing of the military presence and participation in new aspects of the policing structures would remain dormant.
But economic, social and equality issues which had been raised during seven months of discussions could go ahead, in line with the Good Friday Agreement, ''although it would be better if decisions in these areas were made in the context of devolution'', Mr Murphy said. …