31/07/2002

Future of power-sharing executive in doubt

The surge in paramilitary violence has topped the political agenda over recent days, with the major pro-agreement players appearing less than enthusiastic over the prospects for an intact executive after the summer recess.

A DUP delegation left Downing Street yesterday, having delivered their analysis on the civil unrest to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

After their hour-long meeting with Mr Blair, the DUP leader Ian Paisley said: "I reinforced to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State that it was his security strategy that had failed and he admitted that, indeed the situation had worsened over the past few months."

Mr Paisley said that he insisted that the Prime Minister proscribe Sinn Fein and call elections, to ensure that "law-abiding people of Northern Ireland had the opportunity to put things right".

While the message from the anti-agreement DUP is familiar to Downing Street, it will reinforce the view that there had emerged a consensus within unionism that the power-sharing government with Sinn Fein is unpalatable.

On Monday, the UUP trade minister Sir Reg Empey said that his party was facing an "enormous moral dilemma" in continuing with Sinn Fein in government – whilst, he claimed, republican paramilitaries remained active in street violence.

He said: "There is enormous dilemma where you have involvement with a party that is clearly linked to a paramilitary organisation and that organisation has not completely terminated its paramilitary operations and, indeed, it is not even honouring the commitments, both in letter and in spirit, that were entered into by Sinn Fein."

This was a restatement of the Ulster Unionist Party's belief, which David Trimble voiced last week, that the Secretary of State's proposals to contain violence were inadequate. Mr Trimble went so far as to describe Dr Reid's statement to the Commons as "appalling".

Mark Durkan, the SDLP's leader, and deputy first minister to David Trimble, said that the UUP's threat to leave the executive would only play into the hands of the paramilitary groups.

Mr Durkan said: "Aborting democratically agreed arrangements will only satisfy the sectarian power kicks of paramilitaries."

Elsewhere, a statement from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) declared that violence would only serve to destabilise a fragile local economy – adding to the already gloomy outlook.

The CBI's Northern Ireland spokesman, Nigel Smyth, said: "We are competing in a global environment where investment and tourists are highly mobile. The entire community must realise that these unacceptable activities are putting Belfast's and Northern Ireland's future prosperity at risk."

Education Minister Martin McGuinness met with the Northern Ireland Secretary on Wednesday afternoon for further discussions on the peace process.

(GMcG)

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