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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Assembly suspension looms
It seems increasingly likely that the Northern Ireland Assembly will be suspended later on Friday because of a failure to break the deadlock in the political process.

Secretary of State John Reid is expected to announce that he is to suspend the political institutions for one day.

Dr Reid has to make a decision by midnight on Saturday on what action to take. The BBC understands that an announcement may come at about 1900 BST on Friday.

But the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, has said such a move would be "foolish".

David Trimble
David Trimble: "No point in suspension if IRA will not then move on arms"
He said there was no point in the government trying to buy more time unless it believed the IRA was about to begin decommissioning its arms.

"Simply to prolong the situation for six weeks in the hope that something would turn up is a mistake," he said.

"We expect government to have the courage to deal with problems."

'Unattractive options'

Under the current legislation, a short suspension would trigger another six week-period during which Dr Reid could attempt to broker an agreement between the parties on IRA decommissioning, British Government demilitarisation and ensuring the stability of the institutions.

His other options are suspending the assembly indefinitely and starting a review of the deadlocked process or calling an assembly election.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid
John Reid must make crucial decision
Mr Trimble, who precipitated the current crisis with his resignation as Northern Ireland first minister because of the IRA's refusal to disarm, would not be drawn about whether he would keep his party's ministers in the assembly executive if there was another suspension.

Dr Reid said he would not make his final decision until he had spoken to all of the political parties.

"None of the options available to me are particularly attractive," he said.

"Some people want to see a short suspension. Some people want to see a long suspension. Some people want to see elections and many people just want to see the whole problem go away.

"But I will consult further with the prime minister, the other parties and the Irish foreign secretary and then I will make my decision known."

Dr Reid is to meet Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen in Brussels where he is attending the EU summit on terrorism.

'Suspension illegal'

Earlier on Friday, he met Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams at Hillsborough and also spoke by telephone with the SDLP's Seamus Mallon, who was demoted to the position of acting deputy first minister by David Trimble's resignation.

Gerry Adams:
Gerry Adams: "Putting pressure on IRA is counterproductive"
Speaking after their meeting, Mr Adams warned it would be counter-productive to apply pressure on the IRA over the arms issue.

He also said that any kind of suspension of the assembly was illegal under the current legislation.

He said Dr Reid should instead pause the political process and start an in-depth review of what had gone wrong.

Poll in favour of IRA move

Meanwhile, in a poll for the Irish Times newspaper, 85% of those surveyed said the IRA should immediately begin to put its weapons beyond use. Just 9% of those questioned said they should not.

A small majority of Sinn Fein voters surveyed also supported immediate IRA action on decommissioning weapons. Of republican voters 46% said disarming should begin now and 44% that it should not.

The results of the poll were published after the IRA said in a statement on Thursday that it would step up its contacts with the international decommissioning body.

The statement was greeted with some scepticism by the Ulster Unionists, DUP and SDLP.

The Ulster Unionist leader welcomed the IRA's decision to accelerate their engagement with the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning, but he said this must be followed by action.

Policing boost

However, the political process received a boost late on Thursday night when the two main unionist parties announced they had agreed to join the new Police Board.

Dr Reid welcomed the decision by the Ulster Unionists and the anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party to support the new Police Service of Northern Ireland as "a momentous step forward".

The main parties are entitled to 10 of the 19 seats on the Police Board.

The SDLP had already said it would take its seats on the board.

Sinn Fein is the only party entitled to seats which has refused to nominate the board. The BBC has learned that the UUP and DUP will be allocated their seats.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid:
"I will consult with all of the parties before making a final decision"
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble:
"There is no use calling a suspension and just hoping something will turn up"

Assembly back

IRA arms breakthrough

Background

Loyalist ceasefire

FORUM

SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

TALKING POINT

TEXTS/TRANSCRIPTS

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
SF 'must prove' peace commitment
20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Unionists sign up to police board
20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
IRA statement branded 'cynical'
20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
IRA statement in full: 19 September 2001
20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Q&A: The IRA statement
18 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
IRA warned about Colombia 'links'
20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Poll result urges assembly elections
14 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
IRA arms setback for peace process
12 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
NI talks gain six week reprieve
10 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein anger over suspension
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