Flash: British govt postpones election, no date set
The British government has agreed to a request from Ulster
Unionist leader David Trimble to again postpone elections to the
Belfast Assembly, this time "until the autumn".
Nominations had already been accepted and campaigning was in full
swing for the election which was due last month but had been
postponed until May 29.
British Secretary of State Paul Murphy made the announcement in
the House of Commons shortly after 2.30 p.m. The Irish Prime
Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will make a statement on the
matter shortly. It is the latest hammer-blow to a peace process
which faces an uncertain future over the traditionally difficult
summer marching season.
"We believe there remains lack of clarity on the crucial issue of
whether IRA is prepared for a full, immediate and permanent
cessation of all paramilitary activity," Paul Murphy told the
"We have concluded that we should postpone the elections until
the autumn," he added, in another blow to the British-ruled
province's faltering peace process.
Murphy said the IRA needed to say that it would stop "military
attacks, training, targeting, intelligence-gathering, acquisition
or development of arms, preparation for 'terrorist campaigns',
punishment beatings and attacks, and involvement in riots."
Republicans see little prospect of the IRA using such words in a
statement and have bristled at the implication that unproven
allegations in the media of ongoing IRA activity are true.
There was also disappointment that there was no announcement
today about the possible release of the British and Irish
governments' Joint Declaration, or blueprint, on the future of
the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, containing commitments on
policing, justice, equality, human rights and demilitarisation.
Throughout the morning, political parties in the North were
becoming increasingly concerned the British government would
quickly pass a law to prevent the election going ahead following
a meeting between David Trimble and British Prime Minister Tony
Blair last night. Mr Trimble and Mr Blair are understood to be
concerned at the prospects of Trimble's party in a possible
election and at the possibility that Sinn Fein could become the
largest nationalist party in the Assembly, securing the position
of the First or Deputy First Minister.
Last night, the British government issued fresh demands for
clarification and was dismissive of a statement by Sinn Fein
President Gerry Adams in which he explained the IRA's position
that there would be no activity contrary to the peace process in
its determination to bring "complete and final closure of the
The statement and his previous address on Sunday have been
strongly welcomed at home and internationally as satisfying the
latest demands for "acts of completion".
However, Ulster Unionist leader Mr David Trimble rejected the
statement from Mr Adams, and Downing Street is understood to have
issued five more requests for "certainty".
Exasperated republicans now consider it impossible to satisfy
what are seen as endless and insatiable unionists demands now
being promoted by the British government.
Sinn Fein chairman Mr Mitchel McLaughlin said they were not
prepared to engage in further "word games" with the British
government, and said a postponement of the elections was called
just to suit Mr Trimble's party.
"David Trimble decided at his party conference last March,
ratified at a further party conference in September last year,
that they were going to collapse the political institutions and
contest the elections, if at all, from outside the political
institutions," he said.
"That is why we find it impossible to make a deal and
unfortunately Tony Blair has bought into that apparently".