Adams warns of renewed conflict in Ulster

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Northern Ireland could slide back into conflict if the political institutions at Stormont are not reactivated, Sinn Fein's president, Gerry Adams, warned yesterday.

The West Belfast MP said that while his party remained committed to trying to resolve the weapons issue, it was vital that the Assembly, power-sharing executive and north-south institutions were restored.

"There is a vacuum. There is the possibility that all of the good work of recent years could be frittered away," Mr Adams told the party's annual conference in Dublin.

"Worse still, there could be a slide back to conflict. That has to be prevented.

"The priority at this critical point in the peace process must be to get the institutions back in place as soon as possible. The two governments must also urgently co-operate to implement all the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Adams stressed that Sinn Fein wanted to remove the guns from Irish politics, and said it had often acted outside its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement to resolve the disarmament issue.

But he warned the British government and the Ulster Unionists that they should not expect an "IRA surrender".

Mr Adams said: "We will continue to do our best, but if a British government, with all of its military fire-power, could not get an IRA surrender in 30 years of war, then Unionist leaders or British ministers cannot expect a Sinn Fein leadership to do it for them."

The Sinn Fein president warned that the process of change under the Good Friday Agreement was being made "conditional" on Unionist approval and particularly, on the support of those Unionists who were opposed to the accord.

He criticised the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, for suspending the institutions, saying there was a need for Mr Blair and his minister to come to terms with the Unionist veto.

Sinn Fein "remained prepared" to work alongside Unionists to create a "shared and agreed future" for everyone on the island of Ireland, Mr Adams said.