22/07/2002

Violence threatens stability of executive

After weeks of mounting violence across Northern Ireland, the future of the executive seems close to collapse as advocates of the Good Friday agreement remain at loggerheads over the state of paramilitary ceasefires.

In an interview with RTÉ Radio One, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, and Minister for Education, Martin McGuinness said that he expected the institutions to fall before the elections in May. He said that the Ulster Unionist Party would probably walk out of the executive as part of an "anti-Sinn Fein agenda".

"I think that it is increasingly unlikely we are going to get to the elections in May. In all probability, the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party have already decided that it is much better to go quicker and on a very anti-Sinn Fein agenda," he said.

Mr Trimble has insisted that Prime Minister Tony Blair take action over the rise in paramilitary violence before Parliament rises for the summer recess on Wednesday. He has indicated that he would be prepared to resign his post as First Minister for a third time should there be no action by Downing Street over breaches in the paramilitary ceasefires. Mr Trimble has piled the pressure onto Tony Blair in recent days by giving a series of interviews to newspapers and television programmes.

The First Minister told BBC's 'Breakfast With Frost': "He [Tony Blair] is supposed to be the guardian of the peace process, he is the person who carries the legal responsibility for maintaining order here in Northern Ireland, and I'm calling on him to exercise that."

In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Trimble said that if there is no sanction of paramilitary groups or parties associated with them, Northern Ireland would face the "nightmare scenario" of having Sinn Fein and the DUP as the dominant parties in the assembly.

Factions within UUP, most visible in the form of Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, are pressuring Mr Trimble to quit his post if Sinn Fein are not excluded from the executive.

However, in his interview with the Guardian, Mr Trimble said: "There's still a job to be finished here and it's one I intend to finish."

It is expected that Tony Blair will tell the Commons that all forms of paramilitary violence should cease and that recent unrest is incompatible with the continuance of the ceasefire status.

However, exiling republicans from the devolved government is not expected to be an option Mr Blair will agree to – leading to greater uncertainty over what the UUP leader's next move will be.

(GMcG)

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