British govt on spot over Assembly elections

The British Government was under pressure today to make a definitive statement on whether Assembly elections would go ahead in Northern Ireland as planned.

The British Government was under pressure today to make a definitive statement on whether Assembly elections would go ahead in Northern Ireland as planned.

As Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy prepared to discuss the state of the peace process with Foreign Minister Brian Cowen in Belfast, several of the North’s parties demanded a clearer statement on whether Assembly elections would go ahead on May 29.

The parties had hoped to embark on their election campaigns this week following last night’s dissolution of the Stormont Assembly.

Many have booked advertising and completed party election broadcasts – with David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists having already submitted their film to broadcasters.

However despite attempts by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams to clarify the IRA’s future intentions towards the peace process, there were fears today that the British government could postpone the date of the poll while it sought further clarification from republicans.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan argued it was “vital” after today’s meeting both governments “confirm that the elections will be going ahead as planned on May 29.

“Public cynicism will only be heightened further if there is any attempt to postpone the elections again.”

Hardline Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson also called for the election to go ahead.

“It would be wrong if the elections were postponed and the IRA were allowed to exercise a veto over whether they took place,” the Lagan Valley MP said.

In a bid to break the deadlock in the peace process, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams yesterday tried to answer three questions Tony Blair posed to republicans last week.

Mr Blair asked them:

:: Would the IRA give up all paramilitary activity?

:: Was it prepared to decommission all of its weapons?

:: Did the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement mean an end to conflict?

On the first question, Mr Adams said it was his view that the statement passed by the IRA to London and Dublin a fortnight ago dealt with all concerns about the organisation’s activities.

“Any such activities which in any way undermine the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement should not be happening,” the West Belfast MP declared.

“The IRA statement is a statement of completely peaceful intent. Its logic is that there should be no activities inconsistent with this.”

Turning to the other questions, he continued: “Secondly, the IRA has clearly stated its willingness to proceed with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity.

“Obviously, this is not about putting some arms beyond use. It is about all arms.

“And thirdly, if the two governments and all the parties fulfil their commitments this will provide the basis for the complete and final closure of the conflict.”

While the speech was welcomed by British and Irish government officials as a “significant advance” in the process, London and Dublin said they still needed to hear more on the IRA’s willingness to give up all paramilitary activity.

David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists were more dismissive.

“Republicans build up this statement as something which has the capacity to unlock the deadlock. In the end it failed to live up to its billing,” a UUP spokesman said.

“Having seen the details it falls short of what is required.”

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