Mallon may be reinstated as Deputy First Minister

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The Independent Online

The Northern Ireland Assembly meeting to appoint a power-sharing executive was adjourned briefly after opening today when Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson changed standing orders at the last minute.

The Northern Ireland Assembly meeting to appoint a power-sharing executive was adjourned briefly after opening today when Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson changed standing orders at the last minute.

The house was allowed to rise for 15 minutes to study the alteration which could see the reinstatement of the SDLP's Seamus Mallon as Deputy First Minister.

He resigned from the post in July after an attempt to form devolved government in Northern Ireland foundered when First Minister David Trimble and his Ulster Unionist colleagues boycotted the session.

Hard-line unionists opposed to the political process in the province indicated that they would attempt to block his reappointment earlier today.

The revision in Standing Order 14 was delivered to Assembly Members minutes before the session was due to begin this afternoon.

It allowed First Ministers or Deputy First Ministers who had offered their resignation to be reappointed if the Assembly indicated "that it wishes the member to hold the office to which he had been elected".

"Where the Assembly approves a resolution the Presiding Officer shall askthe member who offered his resignation whether he assents to the wish of the Assembly," it stated.

If he agreed "then the member shall hold the office to which he had been elected notwithstanding his offer to resign and the outcome of the last election to the office of First Minister or Deputy First Minister shall remain in effect," it added.

When the sitting resumed Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley attacked the change saying it was the result of "collusion" between the SDLP and Mr Mandelson.

Dr Paisley said: "I think it is quite clear that Mr Mallon did resign (in July) and it was reckoned to be a resignation by everyone, both in this house and the Westminster Parliament.

"Now we come to an amazing collusion between those making this motion and the Secretary of State, who presents this order paper in a few minutes before this house sits."

Dr Paisley, whose party opposes the Good Friday Agreement, said Mr Mandelson's actions combined with the SDLP motion to re-appoint Mr Mallon had "stood democracy on its head".

UK Unionist Leader Robert McCartney said the amendment undermined a central principle of the entire political process, the principle of consensus.

"For the Secretary of State, at the stroke of a pen to abolish the central principle of consensus for political expediency is a disgrace to this house," he said.

Shadow Presiding Officer Lord Alderdice said it was "absolutely clear" that the Northern Ireland Secretary had the power to alter standing orders, "and there is no point us going round the house on this matter".

"It's not a post facto matter," he said.

"It is repairing what was quite clearly a gaping hole in standing orders," he said.

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