PRESSURE BUILDS FOR ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has affirmed that the party has
recently been in contact "at the very highest level" with both
the British and the Irish Governments and with the US
administration with a view to the setting of a definitive date
for the North's twice-cancelled Assembly elections.
The elections were cancelled by a British government keen to
save David Trimble and his beleaguered leadership of the
Ulster Unionist Party.
Amid speculation of a new attempt to restore the North's
power-sharing institutions, Sinn Fein sources indicated this
week that republicans would not consider any further
initiatives unless a definite date for fresh assembly
elections was announced.
It also emerged that a republican legal challenge to the
British government over its failure to set an election date is
being planned. A court challenge is being considered, either
in the name of Sinn Fein or an individual voter.
Nationalist frustration has increased following another clear
victory for Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble at a
meeting his party's ruling council meeting last Saturday.
Despite Trimble's victory, the UUP's public infighting and
murky backroom dealings look set to continue indefinitely.
Pressure has been growing on the British government to end its
fixation with unionism's internal problems and restore the
primacy of the democratic process. By way of response,
British Secretary of State Paul Murphy said at the British
parliament today that his government was "hopeful" elections
would be held before the end of the year.
But speaking today, Mr McGuinness said the overdue elections
were "vital" and "a matter of political principle".
"It is vital to set a new context, create a new dynamic.
Without that there is no prospect of progress."
"But it must also be recognised that even with an election
date that there is no guarantee of future initiatives from
Following reports of a private meeting between the Sinn Fein
leadership and British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week, Mr
McGuinness said today that contacts had continued through the
summer and had intensified in recent weeks.
But, referring to past disappointments, he said republicans
were wary of unilateral actions to sustain the peace process.
"We have to remember the last time Mr Blair slapped
republicans and the [Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie
Ahern] in the face by cancelling elections. This has created a
deep well of anger and frustration.
"Moving things forward is not just the responsibility of
republicans. There is a collective responsibility on all of