By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — With less than two weeks to go before the Assembly is due to approve arrangements on cross-border cooperation and the proposed ruling Executive, there’s still uncertainty about how the British government will respond.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP say they expect the vote to trigger the setting up of the Executive, to include two Sinn Fein ministers, but the Ulster Unionists insist no progress can be made without IRA decommissioning.
The British government isn’t saying what moves it will make on Feb. 10, with tension mounting and a fraying at the edges of both the republican and loyalist cease-fires.
UUP leader, David Trimble, is expected to seek a full review of the Agreement if the British government moves to set up the Executive. There’s also speculation he may issue a legal challenge if Sinn Fein is offered seats.
Under Strand One, section 36, a review is permissible to allow the political parties who signed up to it to meet. Sources close to Trimble say this would be the "most appropriate" mechanism for a review.
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Seamus Mallon, the SDLP deputy first minister, however, said a review would be premature as the agreement had never been implemented to see if it would work. Trimble would be better advised, he said, to move forward with the agreement rather than seek a review.
"Let’s get on, set up the institutions, do everything that we have to do," Mallon said. On excluding Sinn Fein, he said his party would not break its commitment to inclusivity. "We are not going to break our word," he said.
Trimble wants the Agreement changed so the automatic allocation of seats under the complex d’Hondt system is suspended, thus excluding Sinn Fein from membership of the Executive.
Sources close to Trimble say Mallon’s agreement is not necessary for a review. He merely has to ask the two governments to institute such a review, they said, giving him "a lot of tactical options."