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Monday, September 14, 1998 Published at 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK

Trimble gives Sinn Fein ultimatum over arms

Target: An IRA arms cache uncovered by police

Sinn Fein has been warned it cannot take seats in Northern Ireland's new executive while the IRA retains weapons.

Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble told the province's new Assembly that he could not reconcile Sinn Fein - the IRA's political wing - seeking government positions while the terrorists remained armed.

[ image: Sinn Fein is seeking two seats on the executive of the Assembly]
Sinn Fein is seeking two seats on the executive of the Assembly
With 18 seats in the 108-seat Assembly, Sinn Fein should be entitled to two ministerial posts.

But Mr Trimble seems ready to delay - until Christmas if necessary - the formation of the 10-member cabinet in the hope of prior IRA disarmament.

Mr Trimble, referring to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams' declaration that violence "must be over, done with, a thing of the past", said he had welcomed the move.

"However, as in all partnerships, the opportunity to implement the Agreement in its entirety is predicated on trust and equality.

[ image: David Trimble: We should be relying on votes, not weapons]
David Trimble: We should be relying on votes, not weapons
"There can be neither trust nor equality if one party to the Agreement is not prepared to destroy the weapons of war.

"We should all be here relying only on our votes and not on weapons.

"I hope we will see those previously engaged in violence now embrace peace with a new vigour."

He added: "I'm determined to do everything I can to make the Agreement work.

"However I, and I am sure by far the greater number of people, simply cannot reconcile people in positions of government with a failure to discharge their responsibility under the Agreement to dismantle terrorist organisations."

[ image: Gerry Adams: Automatic right to seats]
Gerry Adams: Automatic right to seats
Mr Adams responded that Sinn Fein should enjoy "a direct and automatic right" to hold two seats in the executive.

Mr Trimble spoke after the Assembly paid tribute to the 29 victims of the bombing in Omagh, County Tyrone last month by dissident members of the IRA.

Sinn Fein has appointed its strategist Martin McGuinness to act as an intermediary between the IRA and the international body set up to oversee arms decommissioning.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern made it clear last week that he did not see decommissioning as a precondition for the inclusion of Sinn Fein in the executive.

But time is running out. By February 1999 - in less than six months - Westminster is due to transfer powers to the 'shadow' assembly, which will have authority over all areas except defence, police, foreign policy and tax.

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