Mallon re-elected as Trimble's deputy

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The Independent Online

Seamus Mallon was tonight reinstated as deputy First Minister at the new Northern Ireland Assembly after a bitter row over last minute changes to rules of procedure.

Seamus Mallon was tonight reinstated as deputy First Minister at the new Northern Ireland Assembly after a bitter row over last minute changes to rules of procedure.

Hardline unionists hit out at Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, who amended standing orders before a vote was taken to have the Newry and Armagh MP resume as David Trimble's number two at Stormont.

At one stage, the Reverend Ian Paisley called for a judicial review after colleagues in his Democratic Unionist Party claimed the executive powers had undercut democratic procedures and principles.

He said: "There is a deep suspicion there are no rules in this Assembly to which we can abide, only rules governed by the Secretary of State."

The row over Mr Mallon's reappointment delayed the formation of the executive which is expected to be set up later tonight with unionists, nationalists and republicans ready to share power for the first time ever in Northern Ireland.

Legislative powers are due to be transferred from London to Belfast on Thursday.

Mr Mallon had been Mr Trimble's deputy up until last July and the row at Stormont was over whether he had resigned or offered to resign.But the appointment of the executive could not go ahead before Mr Mallon's position was resolved.

Before the change in standing orders today, Mr Trimble, as First Minister would have had to be re-elected on a joint ticket with Mr Mallon which would have required the majority support of both unionist and nationalist members.

But the new rules allowed the Assembly to consider the case of Mr Mallon alone and hold him to the office he had offered to leave.

It effectively eased his re-entry to the role of working alongside Mr Trimble, without jeopardising the position of the Ulster Unionist leader.At the end of a debate lasting just over two-and-a-half hours he was back in office by a vote of 71-28.

The unionist hardliners denounced the new rules as dictatorial and a farce because everybody, including the previous Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, knew that Mr Mallon had resigned, losing all his trapping of office, as well as his salary.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson claimed: "All this chicanery is for one purpose - having the mechanics to get Mr Mallon back into office by means of an absurd voting system."

He added: "If on day one they do not have the numbers to get this through, how long are we going to allow this farce and charade to last?"

Earlier Lord Alderdice, the presiding officer, said he had received conflicting legal advice and admitted his decision to proceed may be subsequently judged to be incorrect by a court.

"I decided not to proceed with a judicial review. It is open to others to take that up," he said.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, supporting the motion to have Mr Mallon reinstated, said unionist rejectionists lacked any sort of vision for the future. They had nothing to offer.

But he said this was the beginning of the end to their reluctance, begrudgery and hesitancy.

Mr Mallon made a powerful plea to the Assembly to accept his reinstatement. He added: "This motion is not about me, either as a politician or a person.

"It is not about any individual. It is about this Agreement and my conviction that I will do everything in my power to make sure this Agreement works.