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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 15:56 GMT
Politicians create tense backdrop
Police Service of Northern Ireland headquarters
The weekend saw the RUC change its name
By the BBC's Tom Coulter in Belfast

A week, it is said, is a long time in politics.

In Northern Ireland, a few hours can seem like an eternity.

On Saturday evening, the future of the devolved assembly seemed to be assured when the non-sectarian Alliance Party agreed to re-designate some of its assembly members as unionists.

That political manoeuvre should have been enough to get David Trimble re-elected as First Minister when the Assembly reconvenes on Monday.

Under the complex rules of the Stormont parliament, Mr Trimble needs a majority of unionists to support him for the top job.

Legal challenge

On Friday, he failed to get that support by just one vote. But with the Alliance Party on board, it appeared David Trimble's future and that of the power-sharing administration was assured.

That, however, was before Ian Paisley's hard-line Democratic Unionist Party entered the fray.

They have threatened a legal challenge to any rescue plan they do not approve of. The DUP argue that the Alliance Party's decision to re-designate some of its five assembly members as unionists is an abuse of Standing Orders.

The party is also threatening to take Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid to court.

Ian Paisley's party insists that the legislative deadline for electing a First Minister was midnight on Saturday and that Dr Reid should either have suspended the institutions at that point or ordered fresh assembly elections.

Political future

The leadership of the DUP have been locked in discussions with their legal advisers and will only say that their strategy will become clear within the next 24 hours.

Northern Ireland's political future may soon lie in the hands of the judiciary rather than its elected representatives.

While politicians in Northern Ireland continue their political battles, it is believed republican dissidents were at work in Birmingham overnight.

A car bomb in the city centre caused little damage but is a timely reminder that not all republicans support the Northern Ireland peace process.

Some republicans do not agree with the IRA's decision to disarm.

Minor injuries

Dissident groups will be keen to convince republicans that they offer an alternative to the IRA and the route their political masters in Sinn Fein have chosen.

To date the Real IRA has caused only minor injuries and damage to property in its attacks in London and Birmingham.

The real fear though is that one of these attacks will result in serious injury or even loss of life.

Northern Ireland may be desperately trying to save its political institutions but no-one should think though that the threat has completely disappeared.

Links to more Northern Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


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Links to more Northern Ireland stories