Sinn Fein alarmed as Ahern backs Unionists

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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 Taoiseach 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.