He has given London a week to do so. The threat came after a meeting Tuesday with the British prime minister, Tony Blair.
The motion, if raised, would have no chance of success without support from the Social Democratic and Labor Party, which is extremely unlikely. But Trimble is anxious for the British government to be seen to act after a scandal, which he has said is bigger than Watergate.
The most likely scenario is for the British to impose direct rule, temporarily ending the latest attempt to achieve devolved government in Northern Ireland.
The row blew up after four republicans were arrested in a series of house raids in North and West Belfast on Friday. One of those being held is a former junior employee at the Northern Ireland Office, understood to be a messenger.
He was fired from the service last September and, police sources say, was being watched even before then. Police say the reason for not arresting him sooner was “operational,” although the SDLP and Sinn Fein both question the timing.
Trimble accused Sinn Fein “political espionage on a massive scale”
The raids came on Friday, the day the trial of the “Colombia Three” opened in Bogota. A full-blown political crisis appears likely with a return to direct rule from London and imported British ministers taking over government in Belfast. Suspension is preferable, as it could lead to the earlier reestablishment of a devolved government with Trimble at its head. Should Trimble resign, the British must begin a complex series of legal moves.
Elections are due in May, and speculation that the DUP (which opposes the agreement even more vehemently than some in the UUP) could out-poll Trimble’s party, Trimble might not get re-elected after the poll.
An added problem is many of the new round of UUP candidates, due to run for office in Trimble’s own party next May, are themselves anti-agreement and might not support him as first minister, despite his being their party leader.
Sinn Fein would prefer the British government called Trimble’s bluff — although the party would rather neither suspension nor resignations plunged Northern Ireland into another crisis.
In a statement on Monday, the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, pledged that he had not been aware of any intelligence-gathering operation by or on behalf of Sinn Fein and that he would have disapprove of it if he had. He said there was no place for such undercover work in a democracy.
“The Ulster Unionists are entitled to protest” if such an operation had been under way, said Adams, but it was as yet totally unproven.
The blow dealt to the peace and political processes by such a suspension, he said, would simply lead to the parties having to painfully work back toward the same destination.
The Rev. Ian Paisley’s DUP has already announced the resignation of its two ministers on the Executive, putting further pressure on Trimble and Blair. The taoiseach, however, has spoken out against any suspension of devolution.
The crisis, which SDLP leader Mark Durkan has described as a potential “historic disaster,” was precipitated by police raids on the homes of Sinn Fein members and the party’s offices at Stormont.
They led to the charging of one leading party member, Denis Donaldson, 52, on four counts of “possessing information likely to be of use to terrorists” and one count of “possessing secret, confidential or restricted documents.” Donaldson is pleading not guilty and leading republican sources have described him as “110 percent innocent.” In court police admitted that all the documents referred to in the charges were found in one backpack at Donaldson’s home in West Belfast. Donaldson, who is from the Short Strand, is Sinn Fein’s office administrator at the Assembly.
A second defendant is Fiona Farrelly, aged 46, also of West Belfast, who was charged with possession of an IBM laptop computer and personal details of prison officers said to be useful to terrorists.
Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein Mid-Ulster MP, said those charged were innocent and that the IRA was still working for peace. “Allegations have been flying right, left and center,” he said.
On Monday, the DUP said it would be withdrawing from the Executive at Stormont within 24 hours, following the allegations of IRA intelligence gathering, which Trimble described as “10 times worse than Watergate.”
Jack Holland contributed to this story.