Peace process facing gravest crisis

BERTIE AHERN will appeal to British Prime Minister Tony Blair not to suspend the Northern Ireland Government tomorrow after assurances Sinn Féin was not involved in IRA intelligence gathering.

The power-sharing executive moved closer to collapse last night as Ian Paisley’s DUP announced their two ministers will withdraw from the government today.

In a move designed to put pressure on David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party to bring down the executive, conditional letters of resignation were submitted by Peter Robinson and Nigel Doods.

Ahead of a crisis meeting with Mr Blair tomorrow, Mr Ahern said he is against the suspension of the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement, after the Police Service of Northern Ireland raid on Sinn Féin offices in Stormont on Friday.

Following a meeting with the Taoiseach, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he had told Mr Ahern no party members were involved in any intelligence gathering operations.

“I assured the Taoiseach, and I think he accepted that ,” he said.

Republicans would have to be stupid to be involved in an intelligence gathering operation when they were trying to keep the institutions up and running, Mr Adams said.

But PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde said last Friday’s raids on Sinn Féin’s Stormont office and houses in Belfast were essential. Apologising for the manner of the Stormont raid, Mr Orde said there were errors of judgment in how the search was conducted.

“The need to carry out that search was absolute in my mind,” he said.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the nature and scale of the police raid posed a number of serious questions, including some for Sinn Féin, but it was vital in the next few days that nothing be done that cannot be undone. Northern Secretary Dr John Reid said the peace process was facing its gravest crisis.

Later today, Mr Trimble, the NI first minister, will meet Mr Blair, the British Prime Minister to discuss the current crisis.

The Taoiseach called on Mr Trimble to wait for court verdicts on Sinn Féin activists arrested in the intelligence gathering investigation before making any decisions in relation to the future of the process.

Mr Adams said that it was vitally important the Taoiseach had spoken of his opposition to suspension.

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