Sinn Fein seeks Dail motion objecting to assembly suspension

As the power-sharing assembly nears closer to direct rule, Sinn Fein has tabled a motion in the Irish parliament, the Dail, calling for all-party opposition to any move by the British government to suspend the Stormont assembly.

The party, which had been in damage limitation mode this week, went on the offensive last night and, should the motion by passed, the pressure will be on No10 to avoid a fall out with the Irish government and maintain the institutions.

However, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is under fierce pressure from unionists to eject Sinn Fein from government, and earlier this week UUP leader David Trimble threatened to pull his minister out of the executive by Tuesday of next week if Sinn Fein is not censured.

The crisis at Stormont comes in the wake of police investigations into an alleged 'spy ring' at the Northern Ireland Office involving republican terrorists. A Sinn Fein official and a party activist were charged with having information likely to be of use to terrorists on Sunday and are set to appear in court on Friday.

Sinn Fein have consistently denied the connections between the party and republican terrorist intelligence gathering, and a party delegation will go to London tomorrow to discuss the crisis with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. A successful Dail motion against suspension would gain some leverage for Sinn Fein during those talks.

Ahead of that meeting, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness praised the role that Prime Minister Tony Blair has played in the Northern Ireland peace process since he came into office in 1997.

In an interview with a local morning newspaper, Mr McGuinness described his and Gerry Adams's relationship with Mr Blair as "honourable" and that Mr Blair had been the first British Prime Minister in history to look seriously at his country's relationship with Ireland.

However, he went on to praise the IRA for "not falling into the trap of going back to war" in spite of what he described as loyalist "provocation". Mr McGuinness reiterated his belief that one of the accused, Sinn Fein's head of administration, Denis Donaldson, is innocent and is being used as a "scapegoat".

Elsewhere, UUP leader David Trimble also warned Mr Blair against suspending the assembly, urging him not to "shut the whole school down".

Mr Trimble added that the government should instead deal with the "bully" in the institution – Sinn Fein.

"If you have a problem with a bully in a school you don't close the whole school down- you exclude the bully from the class. Nobody else should be punished," he said.


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