David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, issued a final challenge yesterday to the IRA to begin arms decommissioning or face the collapse of the Stormont Assembly.
He repeated his party's threat to press ahead with a motion to exclude two Sinn Fein members from the Executive. If that was defeated, the Unionists would walk out themselves, he said.
Mr Trimble also called on loyalist paramilitaries to set an example to republican groups by beginning to hand over their weapons.
He seized on the arrest in Colombia of three IRA suspects after meetings with a guerrilla group there and the bomb attacks in the United States to justify the move to oust the Sinn Fein ministers Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun from the Executive. Mr Trimble said: "I can't overemphasise how much significance the Colombian adventure had in persuading many Unionists ... that republicans would not change."
He said the American atrocities also changed the "atmosphere and context" of negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland. But he added: "They do not actually change the problem that we have."
The Unionist leader resigned in June as Northern Ireland's First Minister, in protest over the IRA's failure to give up its guns. He has dismissed an offer by the IRA to reopen negotiations with General John de Chastelain, the head of the international decommissioning body.
Mr Trimble's toughening stance has led to angry accusations by Sinn Fein that the IRA is now less likely to put its arsenal beyond use. But he told a Westminster press conference: "Three and a half years ago we had an agreement. Since then, one party, Sinn Fein, and associated with it the IRA, have not kept the agreement. We have been very patient."Reuse content