March assembly election to take place

The Prime Minister has today announced that the March 7 election will go ahead as planned.

The announcement followed yesterday's meeting between Tony Blair and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, however the Prime Minister warned that the election must result in a devolved government.

Commenting on the election, the Premiers said that it is being held for the explicit purposes of endorsing the St Andrews Agreement and of electing an Assembly that will form a power-sharing executive on March 26, in accordance with that agreement and time-frame.

They said: "If, at any point, it became clear that parties were unwilling to fulfil their commitments in the St Andrews Agreement to the twin pillars of power-sharing on March 26 and support for policing, it would be unreasonable to expect the people of Northern Ireland to continue with an election to an Assembly which would not exist."

Last weekend's decision by Sinn Fein to support policing and Gerry Adam's comments urging the reporting of crime and to join the PSNI has added pressure to the Democratic Unionist Party to agree to getting involved in a new all-party power-sharing assembly and maintain their position as the largest party – with most places in the assembly.

However, Sinn Fein believe that through change, they will be able to make further progress and take over as the largest political parties in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein could face a major challenge from disaffected republicans opposed to their decision on policing.

Yesterday, former IRA prisoner Gerry McGeough officially launched his election campaign in a bid to win the seat for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the election – counting on hard-line republicans to support his campaign.


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