Good Friday deal in danger of collapse

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The Independent Online
SINN FEIN warned yesterday that the Northern Ireland peace process would be plunged into "crisis" if it was barred from Belfast's new government because the IRA had failed to decommission its weapons.

Senior republicans spoke out after the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, appeared to back Unionist demands that Sinn Fein should not be allowed to take up seats on the proposed executive without progress in handing over arms. The Taioseach angered Sinn Fein when he said that membership of the province's 10-strong ruling body was "incompatible" with a lack of progress on decommissioning.

Mitchel McLaughlin, Sinn Fein chairman, said that moves to make disarmament a condition of his party's joining government would mean "tearing up the Good Friday Agreement". The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, warned that "we are all of us in deep trouble" if the Irish and British governments accept the Unionist stance.

The continuing deadlock over decommissioning is certain to feature highly on the agenda when the Northern Ireland Assembly reconvenes today.

The assembly is due to discuss proposals from First Minister, David Trimble, and his deputy, Seamus Mallon, on the 10-member ruling executive and cross- border bodies. Under the Good Friday Agreement, wide-ranging powers are scheduled to be transferred from Westminster to the Stormont-based executive on 10 March.

While Unionists insist that Sinn Fein cannot take up its ministerial posts until there has been a start on an IRA weapons handover, republicans and nationalists point out that decommissioning was never a pre-condition for the establishment of the executive.

Mr Ahern reignited the issue in a newspaper interview. "It is not compatible with being a part of a government and part of an executive if there is not at least a commencement of decommissioning," he said.

The Irish premier was later forced to clarify his remarks to stress that he did not want to block Sinn Fein's membership of the executive.

Mr Adams told BBC1's On the Record there was little point in his trying to persuade the IRA to start decommissioning now. "I would be laughed out of the room. The IRA feels that it has taken its guns out of commission - they are not being used and it has maintained a cessation," he said.

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