By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Unionists are calling on the British government to suspend Northern Ireland’s new power-sharing executive and reinstate direct rule if the IRA does not begin decommissioning by the end of January.
It’s understood this is the option favored by the Ulster Unionist Party Leader David Trimble, rather than him resigning in the first week of next month to precipitate a crisis in advance of his party’s Feb. 12 council meeting.
If the report being prepared for the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning, which will be released on Monday, does not indicate that actual IRA disarming has begun, Trimble said a suspension of the executive and other democratic institutions would have to take place.
The BBC reported that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has said the process could be on the road to disaster because of how the decommissioning issue is being handled.
Speaking to the "Spotlight" program Adams said: "We want to see all of these issues resolved. I think they can be resolved, but I think the way they’re being tackled at the moment is a road to disaster."
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Trimble maintained that all parties, including Sinn Féin, were aware during the Mitchell Review negotiations of what would happen if decommissioning did not begin by the end of this month. This has been denied by Sinn Féin leaders, who insist no deadline was set during the review.
The UUP leader stressed that, if the parties were forced into another review of the operation of the Good Friday agreement, his supporters should not lose heart or regard it as a serious crisis, since it could yet have a positive outcome.
In a similar vein, the UUP deputy leader, John Taylor ,predicted the process would not survive after the British government’s ruling on the Patten Report. He said devolution and the power-sharing executive would be ended and direct rule reinstated by Feb. 13.
Taylor said, however, that unionists should not be downhearted because both the Republic’s "illegal claim" to the North in Articles 2 and 3 and the Anglo Irish Agreement were abolished. "We will have British direct rule with these Irish things removed," he said.
He said he believed the chances of IRA decommissioning in January were "absolutely minimal" and that SDLP ministers and others would lose their jobs on the day after the Ulster Unionist Council meets on Feb. 12.
There would then, he predicted, be an interregnum until May when there would be great pressure brought on the IRA to decommission all its weapons, as laid down in the Good Friday agreement.
If the IRA does not decommission then, he said, great pressure would be brought on the SDLP to agree to form a new executive with unionists in June that excluded Sinn Féin.
The SDLP has already indicated it would not be willing to do this, however.
Gerry Kelly, the Sinn Féin representative for north Belfast, said it would be untenable for unionists to end the political process after four years of an IRA cease-fire.
"Unionism is saying it won’t be a big crisis, it might be a wee crisis," he said. "It’s absolutely the wrong way to make politics work. It would be untenable for unionism to pull down a working executive, which has been there for the first time in 80 years."
"The IRA has now been involved in cease-fire for over four years. That is massive. To talk about pulling the executive down when the guns have been silent for such a long time and continue to be silent, for republicans and nationalists, is very hard."