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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Fresh NI elections 'nuclear option'
David Trimble (left) and Mark Durkan
David Trimble and Mark Durkan's election challenged
The Attorney General has described the holding of fresh elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly as the "nuclear option".

Lord Goldsmith was addressing the House of Lords in the Democratic Unionist Party's legal challenge to the election of the first and deputy ministers last year.

He said fresh elections would throw Northern Ireland into turmoil.

The Reverend Ian Paisley's DUP is challenging the election of Mr Trimble and Mark Durkan as Deputy First Minister, claiming they took place outside a designated six-week period.

It also opposes the decision of Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid not to call fresh Assembly elections before May 2003, despite the lateness of the first minister's election.

The House of Lords was told on Monday that the re-election of Mr Trimble last November was "invalid".

John Larkin QC, is representing DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson, who is bringing the case.

Peter Robinson: Legal challenge
Peter Robinson has taken the appeal to the Lords

"If, as we say, the election was invalid, those offices are invalidly filled," he told the five Law Lords.

The Northern Ireland secretary's decision to hold the next assembly elections in May 2003 was "founded on illegality", he said.

The five Law Lords - Lords Bingham, Hoffmann, Hutton, Hobhouse and Millett - were told that Mr Trimble resigned last July in a move designed to put pressure on the IRA to begin disarming.

The then Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon was also forced to step down.

Once the IRA had made its next move on decommissioning weapons, Mr Trimble and Mr Durkan went before the Assembly seeking election.

Northern Ireland Secretary
John Reid: Decision over assembly
The required cross-party support was not achieved on the first vote.

But it was met a few days later, after the designated time-frame, when some Assembly members reclassified themselves as unionist.

At the time, the Northern Ireland Secretary said there was no need for him to call fresh elections - a decision the DUP is challenging.

Mr Larkin said some journalists had described the decision taken by Alliance Party and some Women's Coalition Assembly members to reclassify themselves as unionist as a "fudge".

He added: "What happened here was tactical for the purposes of ensuring the election of these offices."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The DUP's Peter Robinson:
"How can an election in a representative democracy be called a nuclear option?"
BBC NI's political editor Mark Devenport:
"If successful this case would invalidate the election of David Trimble and Mark Durkan
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis

Analysis

Background

SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

08 Nov 01 | N Ireland
13 Nov 01 | N Ireland
09 Nov 01 | N Ireland
06 Nov 01 | N Ireland
04 Nov 01 | N Ireland
06 Nov 01 | N Ireland
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