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Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 18:10 GMT

Northern Ireland assembly deal

David Trimble and Seamus Mallon brokered the deal

Northern Ireland Assembly members have endorsed proposals for a new system of government in the province.

The BBC Denis Murray: "The first hurdle cleared on the way to having real powers"
The blueprint, put forward by First Minister David Trimble and his deputy Seamus Mallon, was approved by 77 votes to 29 after two days of talks at Stormont.

Mr Trimble said he was happy at the outcome but he warned that parties linked to paramilitary bodies must disarm before the new administration came into effect.

David Trimble: "Onus on the paramilitaries"
"The onus now is on paramilitaries to act. And they must act between now and 10 March."

Sinn Fein rejects Mr Trimble's claim that it cannot sit in the new executive or cabinet for the province until the IRA disarms.

Mr Trimble is due to hold separate meetings with the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams on Wednesday in a bid to break the deadlock.

Unionist doubts

The adoption of the plan, which will see the transfer of certain administrative powers from London to Belfast, marks an important step towards devolution for the troubled province.

Some unionists had threatened to vote against it because of the IRA's refusal to begin decommissioning its weapons.

They argued that approving the proposals would allow Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam to trigger the setting up of an executive or cabinet and let Sinn Fein into government without the IRA decommissioning.

In the end one member of Mr Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party voted against the plan, but the Democratic Unionist Party was wholeheartedly opposed.

'Betraying the union'

Ian Paisley: "Traitors within the camp of unionism"
DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, expressed doubts that the disarmament process would ever be completed.

"The start of decommissioning does not entitle those IRA men to sit in any government in Northern Ireland," Mr Paisley said, referring to Sinn Fein.

Claiming the support of "50% of ordinary unionist people" in the province, Mr Paisley warned Mr Trimble and his followers would "betray the union".

Adams welcomes vote

Gerry Adams: Decommissioning is not holding up the process
Mr Adams, who earlier met Mr Blair in Downing Street, welcomed the vote.

"None of us can afford to let this agreement go down," he said.

On the issue of weapons, Mr Adams urged: "Let us deal with decommissioning as a problem to be resolved, not as a condition."

[ image: Gerry Adams: Arms problem should not be condition]
Gerry Adams: Arms problem should not be condition
He accused British intelligence operatives of supplying arms to loyalist paramilitaries, saying he had raised this issue with Mr Blair. Mr Adams displayed the pin of a hand grenade which he said he been thrown at republicans.

But he described his meeting with the prime minister as "a good discussion".

The assembly vote paves the way for the setting up 10 ministerial departments and six cross-border bodies with representation from the UK and the Irish Republic.

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