SF faces expulsion from Stormont over arms

 

Ulster Unionists were tonight preparing to mount a campaign to expel Sinn Féin from the North's executive if the IRA fails to begin decommissioning.

As party leader Mr David Trimble claimed the two governments' package of proposals to rescue the Belfast Agreement may be further delayed over the IRA's refusal to disarm, he called for the peace process to be "untangled" from paramilitaries and their political representatives.

He insisted any review of the three-year-old accord should not include the other crucial issues of police reform and a scaling down of the British military presence.

He told BBC's Breakfast with Frost: "There's one area that hasn't worked, and that's the area under the responsibility of the paramilitary leadership and that includes the political parties linked to them.

"The question is how do we sustain that while at the same time starting to untangle the process from paramilitaries who have failed to deliver."

But Sinn Féin negotiator Mr Alex Maskey hit back, insisting his party had been at the forefront of efforts to break the deadlocked process.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern and the British Prime Minister Mr Tony Blair plan to present their joint document to the North's pro-Agreement parties on Wednesday in a bid to break the deadlocked process before the August 12th deadline.

If it is not accepted by then fresh elections, to the Assembly must either be called or the institutions suspended.

Sources close to Mr Trimble, who sparked the current crisis by resigning as first minister in frustration at the IRA's failure to begin decommissioning, today indicated he saw no hope of being re-elected to the post without paramilitary guns being taken out of use.

"The first step to take where we are faced with that prospect is some sort of exclusion drive against Sinn Féin in the Assembly," one source said.

Mr Trimble has already infuriated the republican party by blocking its two ministers in the power-sharing cabinet, Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún, from attending cross-border meetings with their counterparts in the Republic.

His sanctions were intended to press the IRA into action on decommissioning, but today he was downbeat about any move by the Provisional movement in the coming days.

Mr Trimble fuelled media speculation that the Blair-Ahern document has been withheld in an attempt to receive commitments from republicans on the arms issue.

But raising the possibility of further slippage, he added: "If there isn't that clear action over the course of the next few days it may very well be that the proposals are held back further."

But Mr Maskey, the West Belfast MLA, rejected the Ulster Unionist leader's comments, saying: There's no basis for any suggestion of sanctions against Sinn Féin.

"No party has worked harder to ensure inclusion and the need for all parties in government to play their full role and deliver on their commitments on the Agreement."

Mr Maskey also stressed there was no need to recast elements of the Agreement.

"We are not pushing for review, just the resolution and we will continue to do that. Mr Trimble should do the same," he added.

PA