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Blair expected to deliver stern warning to Sinn Fein

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader and Jack Holland

BELFAST — The British prime minister, Tony Blair, is expected to anger both republicans and unionists this week when he gives what amounts to a warning, or “yellow card,” to Sinn Fein on the IRA cease-fire, but fails to take tougher action as demanded by the Ulster Unionist Party.

The UUP leader, David Trimble, wants the British government to give Sinn Fein the “red card” — expelling the party from the power-sharing Executive, although he is unlikely to be granted this wish, at least in the short term.

He also wants Blair to rewrite part of the Good Friday agreement to insist that no party linked to an active paramilitary group be eligible to take part in the power-sharing executive, in order to “boost unionist confidence” in the peace process.

However, informed sources say that there will be two statements delivered Wednesday, July 24, one from Blair and one from the Northern Ireland secretary of state, Sir John Reid. Blair is expected to announce that in future paramilitary groups on cease-fire must end the following activities: targeting, training, weapons procurement, and engineering. In recent months, the IRA has been accused of drawing up hit lists of prominent Conservative politicians, breaking into Castlereagh police station and stealing secret documents, training Colombian rebels and testing new weapons in Colombia, and continuing to procure arms from overseas sources.

Reid’s statement will detail the measures the government will take to enforce this “clarification” of what a cease-fire is.

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Recently, Blair said he believed the IRA was further now from resuming violence than it had ever been and that the republican leadership was fully committed to the peace process and democracy.

Trimble has warned the British government will “create a dangerous situation” if it fails to act toughly enough against republicans. He said Blair must make it clear what he will do in the event of IRA cease-fire breaches, failing that the process would be in “serious difficulties.”

“This statement should spell out the full implications of the prime minister’s recent commitment about breaches in the IRA cease-fire to the effect that the British government would ‘lay down the clear principles that we abide by, and what happens if people don’t abide by them,’ ” Trimble said.

“In view of the ongoing republican violence, Ulster Unionists require assurances about future IRA intentions.”

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, however, warned Blair on Friday not to create an “unnecessary crisis” by accepting Unionist politicians’ demands for Sinn Fein to be thrown out. Asked by reporters whether Sinn Fein should be excluded from the Stormont executive, Ahern said: “No, I do not.”

“The important thing is that we continue to keep the institutions in place and to work our way through whatever difficulties are there,” Ahern said. “There had been problems in recent weeks, he said, but added that the institutions set up by the Good Friday agreement were all working well.

The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, has expressed concern that Blair will move toward the Unionist demand that the IRA cessation be redefined.

“The Unionist agenda is to create conditions that will see sanctions taken against Sinn FTin,” he said. “The motivation for this comes from the interunionist rivalry not just between the DUP and the UUP but within the UUP itself. And the upcoming UUP selection conventions for next year’s Assembly elections are the catalyst.

“Whatever [Trimble’s] difficulties, and all party leaders have difficulties, making impossible demands and continuously trying to renegotiate the basis on which the political institutions were established, will only make matters worse.”

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, the North’s minister for education, said he believes Trimble will collapse the power-sharing executive before next year’s assembly elections. “It is increasingly unlikely that we are going to get to the elections of next May,” he said on Sunday.

Responding, Trimble said he had no confidence in anything Sinn Fein says, deriding the party’s claims that he will bring down the Stormont institutions before next May.

Trimble said the previous week that McGuinness had made a comment on U.S. radio that he, Trimble, was “not a quitter,” and Adams appeared determined to deny any role in Bloody Friday, in which nine people were killed and 130 were injured after a series of 27 coordinated IRA bomb attacks in July 1972.

“It is obvious that Sinn Fein will say anything to anyone at anytime, simply to suit their own purposes, and unionists were asking how they could have any confidence in them,” Trimble said.

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