24/09/2001

Northern Ireland Assembly: Suspended for the last time?

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Dr John Reid has pushed the reset button on the Northern Ireland Assembly for what he has said is the last time.

Speaking on BBC’s Breakfast with Frost on Sunday, Dr Reid warned the protagonists that this temporary respite must not be squandered again: “What I have done is extend the time during which we may have a breathing space and I would hope that no-one, inside or outside Northern Ireland, will underestimate the serious position that we are now in.”

Dr Reid emphasised that a window of opportunity presented itself rarely and if missed the peace process could be set back years. He again called on the IRA to decommission - a step they had said they were prepared to take.

Announcing the suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland of Friday evening, Dr Reid said: “When I restored the institutions on 11 August my hope was that early progress would be possible to secure the full implementation of all the outstanding issues under the Good Friday Agreement.

“I did not at that point believe that it would be right to contemplate a further short suspension, now if those issues remained unresolved. In the past six weeks, however, circumstances have changed”.

He said three things had changes during the period: the deadlock on policing had been broken; that the IRA had announced intensification of engagement with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning; and that the terrorist attack on the United States had “inevitably overshadowed everything”.

Dr Reid emphasised that the choice had to be made between democracy and terror – a choice that left no room for ambiguity. The attack served to remind everyone the unbearable consequences of “wrong choices”.

Dr Reid later met with the Irish Foreign Minister, Brian Cowen, to consider the next steps in the review required under the Northern Ireland Act 2000 so that devolved institutions could be restored.

However, Northern Ireland politicians hit out at the suspension of the assembly, which they said called into question the institutions’ credibility. (SP)

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