ELECTION CANCELLATION TO GO AHEAD
The British government is set to propose legislation to cancel elections to the Belfast Assembly on Monday in a House of Commons vote in London.
The move is set to face opposition from the Conservative Party, which has long supported the British government line on the North of Ireland.
While Mr Blair announced his decision at a Downing Street press conference, the Conservative Party´s spokesperson on the North, Quentin Davies told British Secretary of State Paul Murphy: "The government have shown that they do not take their own constitutional rules seriously and that devolution does not benefit from any objective constitutional framework."
This week he added: "If electoral commitments are just to be treated
as the plaything of the government . . . one of the great achievements
of the Belfast Agreement will be set at naught."
Meanwhile, as recriminations over the recent collapse in peace efforts continued, the Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has claimed that a delay by the IRA to include commitments by Gerry Adams in its formal position during the most recent phase of the North talks had halted progress towards holding the elections this month.
The suggestion has been denied by republicans, who pointed out that any
uncertainty had been resolved by the release of two IRA statements this
week setting out its position in clear terms.
Mr Ahern has since accepted that the IRA has made another massive seismic shift in support of the peace process.
This week's additional IRA statement, in which it said Mr Adams had "accurately reflected" its position, had helped greatly, he said. "There was obviously a seismic shift in six days. It is welcome," he said.
Though Dublin and London were still seeking more, Mr Ahern said the Ulster
Unionist Party also had questions to answer.
"If we get clarity on one side, we also need to get it on the other side," he said.
However, Mr Trimble said there was "no moral equivalence" between republicanism and unionism. "Nationalists know that the real problem is the failure of republicans to stop all paramilitary activity," he said.
Expressing frustration with the unionist political leadership, Mr Adams has appealed to ordinary unionists to do what they could to save the peace process.
"We still need to work with unionism and I'm going to make some remarks next week which I intend to be an attempt to express republican concerns about unionist fears and sensitivities around all these matters.
"I would appeal almost over the head of their political leaders to unionists to understand that we're now in a period of total political uncertainty," he said, adding that the peace process now has "no centre of gravity".
After the publication earlier this week of the IRA statement that the British and Dublin governments used as a reason for the suspension of elections in the Six Counties, Mr Adams called for the elections to go ahead in June.
"The most important thing to say today is that Mr Blair's decision to stop the elections is a serious mistake and a slap in the face to the Good Friday Agreement," he said in Belfast.
The leadership of the IRA also issued a second statement on Tuesday night, criticising the London and Dublin governments and accusing them of mischievously leaking and misrepresenting "concepts and drafts" associated with its first statement. This statement said that the army had in fact being waiting for agreement and had been prepared to act immediately on putting a quantity of munitions beyond use, with preparations at an advanced stage.
"It's as if the rule book for conflict resolution has been torn up," he said. "Peace requires justice and peace processes are about empowering people, are about a rights-centred disposition and are about making politics work."
Making reference to the current impasse, he said: "So where is the peace process now? We have on the one hand a Joint Declaration from the governments that is not an act of completion but a qualified plan to implement over years the rights and entitlements of citizens. Despite its conditionality, this is progress.
"But the two governments, also stepped outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and introduced in their Joint Declaration, a further concession to Mr Trimble in respect of sanctions. This process of excluding ministers and parties is specifically aimed at Sinn Féin, and is to be used against us in the event of any allegations about IRA activities."
Adams contrasted this approach to the IRA's actions in support of the process.
"On the other hand, we have an IRA leadership that is determined there will be no activities which will undermine in any way the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement; that has clearly stated its willingness to proceed with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity, and despite the suspension of the institutions authorised a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme by the IICD."
He also said that the IRA has accepted that the 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 and that this too is significant progress.
The Sinn Féin leader said that no one should underestimate the significance of the IRA engaging with the IICD (Independent International Commission on Decommissioning) while the institutions are suspended, or the IRA's willingness to undertake another act of putting arms beyond use.
"This followed a suggestion by me to facilitate David Trimble's stated intention of calling a UUC meeting only after the IRA acted on the arms issue. The sequence of events was to be the Joint Declaration and a statement from me in response to this, pointing up the difficulty caused by David Trimble's refusal to commit to being part of institutions.
"He was then to publicly commit himself to recommending participation in the institutions to the UUC. This public pledge would have triggered the IRA putting more arms beyond use."
Adams also pointed out that the IRA had in fact been waiting for the process to start moving, but had been left waiting.
"When the IRA say their arrangements were at an advanced stage they mean that Volunteers sat for days with a substantial amount of equipment waiting for a yes from the UUP or the British government. That yes never came.
"So with the UUP implacably opposed to progress at this point and a British government willing to exercise a unionist veto, we now face into a period of political uncertainty."
He concluded by saying that Sinn Féin is in the peace process to the end.
"Our objective in the time ahead will be to campaign to have elections held, and to hold the two governments to the commitments which we negotiated with them over many months and which are in the Joint Declaration.
He re-emphasised that the substance of the commitments in the Joint Declaration and of those contained within the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens.
"It is about a new political dispensation on the island of Ireland and a new relationship between Ireland and Britain. It is about change-fundamental and deep-rooted change - including constitutional and institutional change across all aspects of society."
Speaking in the Dáil debate on the peace process this week, Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said both the British and Irish governments have been engaged in a charade, pretending that the IRA's initiative was not sufficient for them, but in reality shielding David Trimble from the consequences of his actions.
Ó Caoláin accused the government of "a dereliction of its duty and of helping to pave the way for the disgraceful decision by Tony Blair to ban an Irish election".
"The Irish government is a co-equal partner in the Agreement with the British government. The British government acts in British interests as it sees them. The Irish government must act in the Irish national interest. For decades while it was carrying on a brutal war in Ireland - a war highlighted most recently by the Stevens Report - the British government pretended to be the referee keeping the so-called 'two warring sides' apart. Are we now to have that tragedy repeated as farce with both governments pretending to be neutral arbiters while the unionist veto is allowed to succeed again?"
VIOLATION OF PRINCIPLES
Meanwhile, a start to the dismantling of two watchtowers in south Armagh
was being seen as a rare concession to nationalists.
The move was outlined in the joint declaration of the British and Irish governments, published last week.
Sinn Feins Conor Murphy said people were justifiably delighted
that the towers were going but added that the pace of demilitarisation
was too slow.
Dissident republicans have carried out three attacks in four days, after
a coffee-jar bomb was fired at a PSNI police car in Armagh.
The incident comes two days after dissident republicans were blamed for leaving a pipe in Dublin, hours before Tony Blair arrived for talks with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
And on Monday, the Real IRA claimed responsibility for a blast incendiary bomb that was left outside a motor tax office in Belfast city centre.
Conor Murphy said there was not a leakage to dissidents, although people were intensely frustrated, for example, about all the hype over demilitarisation.
People will remember that this is the third announcement that Clogh post is to go and it has not gone yet, he said.
People are justifiably sceptical until they see these things actually happen. We have only had one post completely removed in south Armagh since the IRA ceasefire nearly a decade ago.
So, there has been an awful lot of anger and frustration about the activity of the British army and the minimal pace of demilitarisation in the area.
Yet people have stuck very firmly with the leadership of the republican movement in supporting the peace process, and I dont see that changing.
Mr Murphy stressed that people know that we are facing very difficult times.
Yes, they are frustrated and angry that the British prime minister has come in and withdrawn arbitrarily their rights to vote in the election. But they are farsighted enough to know that the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement are the only way forward, he said.
Toni Carragher, of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee, said she questioned the armys credibility after they admitted that it could take six months to dismantle the two installations.
They still claim there is a threat, but the fact that there were no checkpoints and roads closed off close to the two sites shows that they feel they can work away at ease, she said.
I think that speaks for itself and all the spytowers should come down immediately.