McGuinness warns against suspending devolution

Northern Ireland’s parties will struggle to get back into power sharing if the Government suspends devolution this week, Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness warned today.

Northern Ireland’s parties will struggle to get back into power sharing if the Government suspends devolution this week, Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness warned today.

As the Good Friday Agreement was engulfed by its gravest crisis yet over allegations that republicans carried out an espionage operation at the heart of Government in Belfast, Mr McGuinness cautioned Tony Blair against suspending devolution to save the peace process.

The Stormont minister told said in a radio interview: “The way I look at this is if the institutions come down, I think the task of getting them back up again will be much more difficult than previously.

“In fact it will be much more difficult because we know, because they tell us, the rejectionist wing of the Ulster Unionist Party who are now in the ascendancy are not going to enter into power sharing institutions in the North (of Ireland) or any institutions of an all-Ireland nature.”

As Sinn Féin continued to protest the innocence of a party official remanded in custody on Sunday night on five charges of possessing documents of use to terrorists, Mr Blair was expected to meet Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble at Downing Street.

The Rev Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists were also expected to begin a unionist walkout from the executive over the allegations against Sinn Féin, pulling out two of its ministers – Peter Robinson at the Department of Regional Development and Nigel Dodds at Social Development.

Mr Trimble was also expected to tell Tony Blair if the Government did not move to expel Sinn Féin this week from the Northern Ireland Government for terrorist activity, his party would.

Ulster Unionist sources said the British government would have until Thursday to act.

Mr Blair is due to meet Bertie Ahern and SDLP leader Mark Durkan, the Stormont Deputy First Minister, on Wednesday.

He was also expected to have a showdown with Sinn Féin leaders at Downing Street on Thursday when he is expected to challenge them to explain the charges against their head of administration at Stormont, Denis Donaldson and press them to prove republicans have abandoned paramilitary activity for good.

Sinn Féin leaders, who have vigorously denied the allegations, were expected to tell Mr Blair that last Friday’s arrests and raids on republican homes and the Sinn Féin office in Stormont were outrageous and have caused deep anger.

UUP sources warned today that if the Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid failed to lay a motion of exclusion against Sinn Féin’s ministers Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun in the Northern Ireland Assembly, then First Minister David Trimble would.

Pressure would mount on the SDLP to expel Sinn Féin ministers as the move requires a majority of nationalists in the Assembly as well as a majority of unionists.

Failure to persuade the SDLP to expel Sinn Féin would result in Mr Trimble leading his four ministerial colleagues in the Ulster Unionists out of the Executive and result in its collapse.

Faced with that likely scenario, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid was expected to suspend the institutions.

While Sinn Féin remained in the dock over its commitment to the peace process, Mr McGuinness on RTE Radio accused unionists of focusing solely “on things they hope the IRA are doing rather than on the attacks which are taking place on the nationalist, Catholic community.

“If they walk out of the institutions today set up under the Good Friday Agreement, they are sending out a very negative message to those unionist paramilitaries and the message is that politics doesn’t work and they are not prepared to stand up to the activities of people who have attacked the Catholic community.”

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