Whatever you want to call it, the elections slated for May 29 are not taking place, largely due to what the British and Irish governments see as a failure of the IRA to satisfy their demands that it cease all paramilitary activity.
Postponement gives us a time frame, Murphy said last Thursday on a visit to New York and Washington to explain his governments decision, which angered almost all the political parties in Northern Ireland, but especially Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party, both of which were expected to do well.
Murphy explained that the elections would have to be held by Nov. 15, when the legislation postponing them lapses.
We did it because wed have been electing to a suspended assembly, he said. Or had it been restored, it would have been dissolved in six weeks. Everything told us that the Ulster Unionists wouldve rejected power sharing until the IRA does its act of completion. Looking at this situation, Murphy said, the prime minister, Tony Blair, didnt think it was best to elect at this particular time.
Paramilitary activity had still not been addressed properly, he asserted.
Sinn Fein has been demanding that the elections be held in June. But Murphy said that the government had considered that but was deterred from going ahead by the approach of the marching season, when sectarian passions are high.
Asked about the accusation that the British government had postponed the elections to protect David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, whose party, it feared, would lose to anti-agreement forces, Murphy replied, We didnt postpone because we thought that certain parties would win or loose — they still could in November.
However, he did admit that moderate unionists are an important factor. He said that the only way the agreement can work is if moderate unionists get together with their colleagues on the nationalist side.
The election decision was, he admits, a pretty severe setback. But, he added hastily, because we were so close it does give me hope.