Trimble ban on Sinn Fein was illegal, court rules

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The Independent Online

The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, suffered an embarrassing legal setback yesterday in his long-running political battle with the Sinn Fein members of the Northern Ireland Executive.

The Appeal Court in Belfast upheld a previous ruling that during his time as First Minister he had acted unlawfully in preventing the Sinn Fein ministers Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun from attending cross-border meetings.

Mr Trimble, who had reportedly been confident of success in the proceedings, announced immediately that he would seek to pursue the case in the House of Lords. The action may become irrelevant, however, since the executive will, in all probability, be shut down next week as a result of another course of action being taken by Mr Trimble.

The Belfast assembly will on Monday debate his motion calling for the expulsion of Sinn Fein from the administration because of the lack of IRA weapons decommissioning. If the motion fails, as everyone expects it to, Mr Trimble will pull his party's three ministers out of government, he has said.

Since the Rev Ian Paisley's ministers can be expected to follow suit, this would leave a Northern Ireland government composed solely of nationalists and republicans. The expectation is that the administration would have to be closed down.

Although Mr Trimble himself stood down as First Minister at the beginning of July, the 10 departmental ministers have continued to function as usual. If the whole government shuts down, the result would be a huge setback, in practical and symbolic terms, for the Good Friday Agreement and the entire peace process.

Mr Trimble's earlier move to block republican ministers from meetings with Dublin ministers was part of what he describes as a graduated campaign aimed at bringing about IRA decommissioning.

In yesterday's ruling, Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice Carswell acknowledged that Mr Trimble had a discretion in nominating ministers to attend meetings, but said he had exercised it incorrectly.

Martin McGuinness said of Mr Trimble's attempt to go to the House of Lords: "He can go where he likes. He is not going to succeed – the two judgments made against him are clear."

He called on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Secretary, John Reid, to make clear he would not suspend the Good Friday Agreement institutions, which include the assembly and cross-border bodies, after a Unionist withdrawal from the government.

He added: "I hope David Trimble will reflect very carefully on this decision. The whole world will hear this decision and the whole world will know that [he] is continuing to obstruct and prevent change. I hope that over the weekend he has a road-toDamascus change of heart."