Category: Archive

Sinn Fein may sue Mandelson

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — As the Northern Ireland Assembly and power-sharing Executive stagger on toward seeming collapse within weeks, the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, has urged the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, to step back from the brink.

Adams used a debate at Stormont on Monday to make an impassioned plea to Trimble, who sat impassively throughout the speech. The response, when it came, was from a leading member of the UUP who counter-charged Adams with "political chicanery."

Behind the scenes, Adams has been holding talks with senior British and Irish government advisers and politicians in an attempt to resolve the crisis.

Party sources were not hopeful of a breakthrough, and if Adams fails, Sinn Fein will go to court to challenge Trimble’s downgrading of its party’s two ministers and challenge the British Northern secretary, Peter Mandelson, for refusing to overrule him.

Michael McGimpsey, a Trimble aide, accused Adams on Monday of "a cheap republican rant" and said the sanctions taken against the Sinn Fein ministers would not be lifted unless the IRA seriously engaged with the Decommissioning Body.

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He said he recognized there were differences between republicans over paramilitary arms decommissioning, but that that was no excuse for the IRA not honoring its commitments to disarm.

"We accept they have signed up to the principles of the agreement that maintain the union", he said. "But none of this takes away from the fact that Sinn Fein/IRA made a crystal clear commitment on disarmament in May.

"Gerry Adams must face down the rejectionists in his movement. If he does not and the IRA dishonors the Hillsborough pact, Sinn Fein must pay the price for that default."

Anti-Agreement Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson said on Friday said that the IRA must either destroy its weapons or hand them over for destruction by the Decommissioning Body.

"The clock is ticking toward the new deadline for complete disarmament by June 2001," he said. "The first [cache] of weapons must be decommissioned by then. Nothing less than this will satisfy the unionist community.

"The UUP cannot sit indefinitely in a power-sharing Executive with the representatives of a fully armed terrorist organization. There will come a point, and it is coming soon, when the SDLP will be challenged to back the democrats and support the exclusion of Sinn Fein."

Speaking at Stormont on Monday, Adams said Trimble was operating an exit strategy to force another suspension of the Northern Ireland executive. He demanded equality for Sinn Fein ministers, who have been banned by Trimble from attending North-South Ministerial Council meetings.

"You cannot have an executive, you cannot have an Assembly if the first minister has already commenced an exit strategy and, in his own words, where he differs only from his party political opponents on a matter of tactics," Adams said.

"In other words, the anti-agreement element in the UUP thinks they will collapse the institutions and it will not be possible to put them back in place – while Trimble simply wants to suspend the institutions and they can be put back in place."

The party’s legal advice is that Mandelson is more vulnerable to legal challenge than Trimble, who, they say, has nevertheless breached six clauses in the Good Friday agreement and two clauses in the Government of Northern Ireland Act 1998.

The move would come against a background of growing signals from the republican grass roots that the agreement is viewed as "holed beneath the water line" and questions about its viability as an agent for change.

A Sinn Fein source said party leaders are convinced Mandelson gave Trimble a prior assurance, before the latest UUC meeting in the Waterfront Hall, that he would not intervene if the UUP leader moved against the two Sinn Fein ministers.

They say this fits a pattern set when Trimble signed a letter of resignation postdated for February, which he knew would not activated because Mandelson would intervene to suspend the institutions rather than allow the UUP leader to resign.

Indications from the British government are that the prime minister, Tony Blair, will be unwilling to move against Trimble and will side with Mandelson in viewing the UUP leader as "indispensable."

If a case is taken against Mandelson, which is considered "highly likely," it will probably be initiated in the first half of this week and take the form of a judicial review of the Northern secretary’s refusal to intervene.

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