Britain Reinstates Northern Ireland Assembly

Published September 23rd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid reinstated the province's power-sharing assembly midnight Saturday (2300 GMT), ending a brief suspension aimed at gaining more time for the peace process. 

Earlier the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, said he planned to table a motion when the assembly resumes its work on Monday calling for Sinn Fein members to be expelled from the body. 

The main deadlock in the talks revolves around the refusal of the Irish Republican Army, whose political wing Sinn Fein is represented in the assembly, to begin allowing its stock of weapons to be removed or destroyed. 

The motion to expel Sinn Fein's members from the assembly "will bring things to a head," said Trimble, who has already resigned as prime minister of the power-sharing executive over the arms issue. 

The reinstatement, which means that the parties will have a further six weeks to try to break a deadlock over the destruction of paramilitary arms supplies, came exactly 24 hours after the institutions were suspended. 

It is the second time the government and the Northern Ireland Assembly, its legislature, have been suspended briefly. The first time was in mid-August. 

The two opposing sides -- the mainly Catholic republicans and the predominantly Protestant unionists -- have both expressed irritation at the new suspension, as they had done in August. 

"It's the norm in Northern Ireland that everyone challenges the decisions of the secretary of state, there is nothing new in this," said Reid earlier Saturday. 

He said he had declared a "very short suspension in order to give people more time." 

"I can assure you it is not my intention to do it again," he said. 

Reid reacted philosophically to Trimble's statement. 

"The fundamental problem is quite simple: I cannot dictate to any democratic party or parties that they will engage in partnership in government with people who are associated in their eyes with a movement that is still linked to the apparatus of terror, which is weapons," he said. 

"And I cannot dictate to anyone who owns such weapons that they should put them aside. These are voluntary acts, whether by the IRA or by the Ulster unionists," he said. 

The Belfast government was formed under a 1998 accord that sought to end decades of sectarian conflict by sharing power between Protestants and Roman Catholics. 

The primarily Catholic republicans and nationalists want to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, while mostly Protestant unionists back continued British rule over the province. 

The IRA, the largest republican paramilitary group, declared a cease-fire in 1997 and has since maintained it, earning a place in the Belfast government for its political wing Sinn Fein. 

However, it has failed to give up a single weapon, infuriating Protestant unionists who are refusing to continue sharing power. 

For republicans, radical police reforms and British troop withdrawals must come first before any disarmament -- BELFAST (AFP)

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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