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NI parties divided over suspension

Decommissioning is a key issue in the peace process
Decommissioning is a key issue in the peace process  


BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Britain's decision to suspend Northern Ireland's power-sharing government has, unsurprisingly, divided the region's factions.

Northern Ireland Secretary Dr. John Reid announced that London would resume direct control at midnight on Friday for what he described as a "very short period" to allow fresh generally considered to be 24 hours.

The republican party Sinn Fein bitterly attacked the decision, while the pro-British Ulster Unionist Party said they expected the Irish Republican Army to have started to empty their arsenals by the time the new talks process ends in six weeks' time.

Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein -- a political party closely allied with the IRA -- denounced the suspension.

"We consider today's decision to be a body blow for the agreement and I'm sure that nationalists and republicans will be both frustrated and angered by today's decision," Adams said.

James Cooper, chairman of the pro-British Ulster Unionist Party, said republicans were holding the democratic process to ransom because of their refusal to disarm.

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He told PA: "We have made it clear to the government that the unionist community is not prepared to give indefinite support to the participation of Sinn Fein in the executive without a start to decommissioning by the IRA."

Cooper said: "Republicans have been given another chance by the government to choose between the ballot box and the armalite (rifle)."

Former Stormont deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon said the move was highly regrettable. "Political stability cannot be achieved by stop-go arrangements or against the background of continuing uncertainty," he said. "As so often in Northern Ireland, we have reached what appears to be an immovable date," said Reid.

"I know that many people who do not find politics totally absorbing will groan at the prospect of going past that date, but I believe that dates or deadlines are here to serve the people, not the other way around."

Blair, on holiday in Mexico, echoed Reid's comments that a breakthrough on the disarmament issue was possible.

"When we have come so far, I think most people would agree with both governments that we should allow the parties more time to try to bridge the remaining gaps," Blair said in a statement issued by his Downing Street office.

The temporary suspenion, however, which Reid discussed last night with Blair, buys the various parties more time.

"It is because we are tantalisingly close to being in a different world here in Northern Ireland that I believe the parties should be given more time," Reid said in a statement made outside his official residence at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast.

"In these circumstances, at a delicate moment in the political process, when discussions are still continuing, I have concluded it would be against interests of the peace process to plunge Northern Ireland into an election campaign.

"I have therefore decided to make an order suspending devolved government from midnight tonight. I hope the period of suspension will be very short."

Brian Cowen, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, who Reid will meet on Saturday morning, said early restoration of the assembly was "vital."

""The full and stable operation of the institutions is a crucial part of the progress we are seeking to achieve," he told PA.

Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the anti-Good Friday Agreement Democratic Unionists, accused Reid of "wantonly abusing" the law.

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Trimble (centre) demands IRA disarmament  

The East Belfast MP told PA: "The review he is holding is not a serious attempt to resolve issues but rather a cynical device to deny the electorate the opportunity to have its say as Parliament had decided they should."

Sean Neeson, leader of the centre ground Alliance Party, said suspension was the best option available but branded it a damning indictment of the pro-Agreement parties' failure to implement the three-year-old accord.

Urging all sides to use the coming weeks for serious reflection, the East Antrim MLA said: "I am convinced if the parties can establish the necessary trust, and show sufficient will then we can properly implement the Agreement, and then begin to build a shared, non-sectarian Northern Ireland."

The White House said in a statement it believed the proposals presented to the Northern Ireland parties by the British and Irish governments constituted a "fair and balanced approach" to further implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"In the present circumstances, the United States also believes that the decision taken today by the British government to suspend the political institutions in Northern Ireland offers a useful path forward," it said.

"The United States echoes the hope that the review to be conducted by the British and Irish governments will be completed quickly and that the suspension will be lifted shortly," the statement added.






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RELATED SITES:
• Northern Ireland Office
• UK government
• Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
• Northern Ireland Assembly

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