By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, is expected to resign as Northern Ireland’s first minister on July 1 after crisis talks in London Monday apparently failed to make progress on the outstanding problems facing the peace process.
The Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, was scathing about what he called Trimble’s "kamikaze" decision to sign a post-dated letter of resignation, which he has lodged with the speaker of the Stormont assembly, to be activated if the IRA doesn’t move radically to decommission its weapons.
Adams said Trimble was "badly advised" to take this course of action and accused him of being "addicted to threats."
It now seems, however, that Trimble will survive this Saturday’s meeting of his ruling Ulster Unionist Council — but his longer-term future as party leader is still in doubt. He has seemingly staved off an immediate challenge by appointing hard-line anti-agreement MP Jeffrey Donaldson to his negotiating team.
Trimble has said he believes that if he resigns, there will be a six-week "period of grace" before the assembly and executive collapse. He has asked that during this time, the two governments create a "pressure cooker atmosphere" to force republicans to decommission.
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On Monday, emerging from talks with the taoiseach, the British prime minister and leaders of the North’s other main political parties, Trimble said his primary concern had been to press for republicans to "keep their promise to put their weapons verifiably beyond use."
"That promise has not been kept," he said. "Speaking personally, my patience is at an end on this issue. If we do not see the republican movement keeping the promise, it made then I will vacate office."
Adams criticized Trimble’s resignation threat as "rash and reckless."
"For a British government to be seen to bend to threats and ultimatums is entirely counterproductive and wrong," Adams said. "Let’s not have the process hijacked and have a British government led over the edge of a cliff because of some kamikaze urge.
"All of these issues can be resolved and with good will. All of these issues will be resolved. Can these be resolved between now and July 1? I would imagine not."
Trimble repeated his warning on leaving Downing Street, saying he had made it "absolutely clear" that without IRA decommissioning he would resign. "I am doing it deliberately in order to bring the issue to a head," he said.
The SDLP deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, left the talks claiming the peace process was in "very big trouble."
"Unless there is a very serious approach taken by the two governments with all of the parties, then the institutions are in danger," he said.
It now seems that, if they are to avoid a damaging resignation by Trimble, the two governments may try to come up with a formula before July 1 that delivers progress on decommissioning and enough concessions on police reforms and demilitarization to win the support of nationalists.
The SDLP and Sinn Fein want guarantees that the political institutions will be allowed to operate fully without unionist interference, meaning a lifting of the ban that Trimble has been allowed to place since last year on the two Sinn Fein ministers attending North-South ministerial meetings.
If they are unable to reach a solution, the governments will be faced with either Trimble’s resignation, with possible new elections to the assembly in September (when the UUP may lose further ground to the DUP), or they will have to suspend the assembly themselves.
As he left London, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern pointed out that Trimble’s deadline was in line with the Irish governments’ desire to resolve matters before the height of the marching season in July.
Ahern admitted there had been "many problems, many obstacles, many difficulties" raised.
"We will have to find solutions," he said. "Solutions can only be found if we all work together. If people are as determined as I am to work on them, they will make a lot of progress."