NORTHERN IRELAND: A complex system to fix a complex problem

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The Independent Online
These are the 10 candidates who are likely to form the Northern Ireland executive:

Sir Reg Empey (UUP): Trusted Trimble lieutenant.

Dermot Nesbitt (UUP): Nationalists have tended to regard him as a Unionist they could do business with.

Michael McGimpsey (UUP): Stern critic of the republicans' refusal to hand over weapons.

Brid Rodgers (SDLP): Unfavoured by unionists because of her involvement in Portadown marching dispute.

Mark Durkan (SDLP): Regarded as heir to John Hume's Westminster seat.

Sean Farren (SDLP): Under criticism from republicans for insisting on decommissioning.

Peter Robinson (DUP): Will not sit in cabinet meetings with Sinn Fein.

Nigel Dodds (DUP): Survived an IRA attempt on his life in 1997.

Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein): Hardest nomination for unionists to swallow.

Bairbre De Brun (Sinn Fein): Relative newcomer, has quickly built up public profile.

IF SUPPORTERS of the Good Friday Agreement have their way, Northern Ireland will, within five days, be run by a complex new political architecture, representing a whole new way of government.

This is all set out in the Agreement, though the decommissioning dispute has held things up for well over a year. Monday, however, could see the appointment of a new executive which will stretch from one extreme to the other, encompassing both republicans and Paisleyites.

This executive will be in charge of a Belfast assembly at the centre of a political web which will take in both London and Dublin. Although many of the new rules have been laid down in the Agreement, a lot of the details will have to be settled as the politicians go along.

The 108-member assembly was elected last year and has met on various occasions, but power has yet to be transferred to it. This will only happen if an executive is successfully formed tomorrow.

Electoral arithmetic has already determined that Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, as head of the party with the largest number of seats, will be first minister. His deputy is to be Seamus Mallon of the nationalist SDLP.

Beneath them will be a 10-member executive committee, which may well come to be called a cabinet. The arithmetic dictates that the 10 will consist of three of Mr Trimble's people, three of Mr Mallon's, two from Sinn Fein and two Paisleyites.

It is considered unlikely that an executive with such diverse elements will develop anything resembling collective responsibility. The Rev Ian Paisley, for example, has already made it clear that while his two men will accept ministerial office, they will not attend executive meetings alongside Sinn Fein.

Beneath this superstructure will be a network of assembly committees with scrutiny and policy development roles. Since they are designed to have considerable powers, their chairmen may well come to be influential figures.

Members of the assembly have been required to designate themselves as Unionist or nationalist, and in assembly votes this will be significant. The Agreement states that important decisions of the assembly will be valid only with substantial support from both the Unionist and nationalist sides.

London will retain control of security and policing, so the assembly will have no power over the Army or RUC. But it will take responsibility for education, the economy, agriculture, and many other areas. The executive will decide how to allocate monies supplied in an annual block grant from Westminster.

The assembly and executive will also forge a link with the Irish Republic, through a new north-south ministerial council, to develop co-operation on an all-Ireland basis. Unionists tend to play down this part of the new arrangement while nationalists tend to play it up.

Another new body will link the assembly with the Scottish and Welsh executives, and yet another will connect Britain and the Republic. While everyone agrees this is a highly elaborate system, the general sense is that Northern Ireland is a complex problem requiring a complex solution.

NINETEEN UNEASY MONTHS OF HOPE

10 April 1998: Good Friday Agreement signed at Stormont after 22 months of negotiations. Devolution to proceed hand-in-hand with surrender of paramilitary arsenals. Sinn Fein guarantees to "deliver IRA".

12 April 1998: Gerry Adams threatens to undermine Belfast peace deal by paying tribute to IRA unit blamed for Enniskillen bomb.

22 May 1998: People of Northern Ireland display massive support for Stormont deal as 71.12 per cent in North-South Referendums vote in favour of Agreement.

15 Aug 1998: Omagh bomb explodes, killing 29, injuring 311. Peace process severely shaken.

29 March 1999: Deadlock over decommissioning threatens to wreck the Agreement. Blair flies to Belfast to try to resolve issue.

15 July 1999: Ulster Unionists refuse to join new power-sharing executive and boycott Assembly meeting to nominate Northern Ireland's new government. Tony Blair forced to "park" peace process over summer.

26 Aug 1999: Mo Mowlam declares ceasefire intact, despite murders, beatings and expulsions. This plus decision not to halt early release of Republican paramilitary prisoners, lead Unionists to brand her Sinn Fein puppet.

6 Sep 1999: Senator George Mitchell's make- or-break review of implementation of Good Friday Agreement, which Sinn Fein and Ulster Unionists have both agreed to take part in.

10 Sep 1999: David Trimble's deputy, John Taylor, walks out on peace process claiming Good Friday Agreement will never work, after Chris Patten's report on future of Northern Ireland's police force, including plans to rename the RUC and axe thousands of officers.

11 Oct 1999: Peter Mandelson becomes Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

15 Nov 1999: Senator George Mitchell declares: "We are just a small step from peace."

16 Nov 1999: David Trimble risks party split by offering to form power- sharing government with Sinn Fein before IRA has decommissioned single weapon.

17 Nov 1999: IRA confirms it is prepared to appoint senior figure to start negotiations with international body on decommissioning once power- sharing executive set up.

18 Nov 1999: Mitchell bids his second "final" farewell to Northern Ireland after unveiling report on his 10-week review of peace process.

23 Nov 1999: Queen delights Unionists by awarding George Cross to RUC.

27 Nov 1999: Ulster Unionists' ruling council meets to decide whether to back devolution deal. Votes yes.

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