Recriminations fly as assembly is frozen again

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The Independent Online

Nationalist and Unionist politicians blamed each other for the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly on Friday night as Tony Blair called for "more time" to allow both sides to reach agreement.

Sinn Fein accused the Government of "giving in" to Unionists in suspending the Assembly, and said that the Ulster Unionist Party was trying to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement.

But the UUP turned its fire on Sinn Fein, insisting that the crisis had been precipitated by the IRA's failure to start the process of decommissioning its stock of weapons.

Tony Blair, in a statement released by Downing Street, said that he hoped further progress could be made. "We are at a very important stage of the Northern Ireland peace process. I believe that all sides have made significant steps and I hope that we can make more progress once the review has been completed.

"When we have come so far, I think most people would agree with both governments that we should allow the parties more time to try to bridge the remaining gaps."

Speaking minutes after John Reid, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, made the announcement that the assembly would be suspended, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said that the British Government had decided to "reward David Trimble for his intransigence and his failure to show leadership."

He added: "This is the second time in the past 18 months that the British Government has succumbed to the Unionist veto. They are fully aware of the impact that this is going to have on the confidence of nationalists and republicans in the institutions.

"The Unionists' goal was quite straightforward and they are very clear about it, it's about renegotiating the agreement. I am certain that in the time ahead you will see the Unionists seeking to dilute the agreement and they will be in my view encouraged to do this by today's decision."

But senior Ulster Unionist John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney, said: "Why has this happened? It has happened because the Ulster Unionist Party has not nominated a first minister in the Stormont Assembly. And why are we unable to do that? Why are we unable to progress the Belfast agreement, which we as a party support?

"The reason is that Sinn Fein IRA have still not commenced the decommissioning of their illegal armaments. Until that decommissioning commences we are not able to present a name as nominee to be first minister."

Andrew Mackay, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, gave his support to the suspension. He said: "In the light of the current impasse, we believe that it is the least bad option and is very much preferable to a long open-ended suspension or the calling of fresh Assembly elections."

Brian Cowen, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that early restoration of the political institutions was vital. "The full and stable operation of the institutions is a crucial part of the progress we are seeking to achieve. I have therefore strongly urged the Secretary of State to ensure that the Assembly and Executive are restored without delay."