British govt to officially postpone elections

The British government is today poised to release legislation formally postponing Assembly elections in Northern Ireland which were due to take place this month.

The British government is today poised to release legislation formally postponing Assembly elections in Northern Ireland which were due to take place this month.

MPs are expecting a Bill which would confirm that the May 29 Assembly poll would not take place.

Government sources have indicated that the legislation will not offer an alternative date.

Elections in Northern Ireland were postponed last week four days into the Assembly campaign because of a lack of progress in the peace process.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted elections could not go ahead unless power sharing and devolution in the North could be restored.

He insisted the IRA needed to make a clearer declaration that it was ending all paramilitary activity if the North's power-sharing government and Assembly were to be restored.

Nationalists and hard-line unionists were angered by the British government’s decision last week to postpone the elections.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also expressed disappointment and opposition to the plan.

Mr Ahern last night faced calls from Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness for him to join with nationalists in calling for the Assembly election to take place next month.

Noting Mr Ahern had said in Dublin that the release of two IRA statements this week would have been more helpful had they come earlier, the Mid-Ulster MP argued: “The two governments now have the IRA position and if it was the basis for forward movement last week, it logically is the basis for forward movement this week.

“The question for the Taoiseach is whether he is now going to push the British government to reschedule the elections for June.”

Nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan has also in recent days called on the Prime Minister to allow the people of Northern Ireland to cast their votes in June despite the deadlock in the peace process.

MPs are expected to debate on Monday the legislation postponing the elections.

The Bill is then scheduled to go through the House of Lords on Tuesday.

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