Paisley hits back at Ahern statement on Army Council

Former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley clashed with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today over the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont.

Mr Paisley, who retired from frontline politics in June, spoke out after Mr Ahern signalled that unionists were stepping outside the terms of the St Andrews Agreement of 2006.

The Sinn Féin/DUP row over policing and justice threatens the future of the power-sharing government, but today Mr Paisley criticised the former Taoiseach for effectively blaming unionists for the deadlock.

The two men helped to negotiate the St Andrews Agreement which paved the way for power-sharing, but today Mr Ahern said DUP demands for disbandment of the IRA's ruling Army Council was not part of the deal.

"I have to restate again, because it was part of these discussions and talks, the devolution of policing was not predicated on the Army Council doing this, that or the other," said Mr Ahern.

"It was not on that. It was a solemn agreement that the Irish Government, the British government were engaged and involved in, that said we would have the devolution of policing, that was the effect of it."

The IRA has decommissioned weapons and ended its violent campaign, but the DUP sought the formal disbandment of its ruling Army Council.

After the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) recently ruled the IRA to be redundant and said the Army Council was not meeting, the DUP called for republicans to pledge the IRA was gone for good.

However, today Mr Paisley spoke out over the former Taoiseach's suggestion that unionists were stalling on the transfer of policing powers from Westminster to Stormont.

"We are not time-bound by any commitment," said Mr Paisley. "Mr Ahern is well aware of that."

He added: "The party (DUP) has correctly judged that the devolution of policing and justice powers can only occur at such a time as when there is sufficient confidence within the community that allows for the unlocking of the triple lock.

"That is the position that I and my colleagues negotiated at St Andrews and it remains the DUP position today."

Mr Paisley noted that after the 2006 negotiations he had publicly proclaimed his party's success in achieving a "triple-lock" giving DUP effective control over when the policing powers would be devolved.

"The DUP position is totally unchanged from the time of St Andrews. No commentary from Bertie Ahern after the event will alter that," he said.

The St Andrews Agreement set May of this year as a target date for the devolution of policing powers and the prospect was key to persuading Sinn Féin to accept the North's policing structures.

Mr Ahern told BBC Northern Ireland that the Army Council's status was not part of the agreement.

After the publication of the IMC report, its spokesman, John Alderdice, said the IRA had left the stage, but he speculated it would not formally announce its final disappearance for fear of rival republicans opposed to the peace process taking on its mantle.

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