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EDITIONS
Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 06:46 GMT 07:46 UK
Haass 'concerned' at unionist threat
The future of the Stormont Government is uncertain
The future of the Stormont Government is uncertain
US President George Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland has said he is worried the Ulster Unionist Party's threat to pull out of the power-sharing executive could undermine the Agreement.

Speaking in Washington, Richard Haass said he was concerned the deadline agreed at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting would increase the sense of crisis.

UUP leader David Trimble announced last Saturday that he had set an 18 January deadline for republicans to demonstrate they had left violence behind.

If there is no move by republicans, UUP ministers will resign from the Northern Ireland Executive, collapsing the power-sharing government.

US policy advisor on Northern Ireland Richard Haass
Richard Haass: Concerned about developments

However, Mr Haass expressed support for the proposal to appoint an independent monitor to assess levels of paramilitary violence in the province.

"We view paramilitaries and the sectarianism that allows them to thrive as the chief obstacle to normalisation.

"That said, I question how setting deadlines for withdrawing from the institutions helps us address this problem.

"In fact I am concerned that this new deadline will increase the sense of crisis, increase polarisation, undermine trust and make it all the more difficult to focus on what should be everyone's main task - namely, making the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement work."

'Enshrined'

On Wednesday, the secretary of state reiterated the government's commitment to the Agreement.

John Reid was speaking after holding talks in Dublin with Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen on Thursday as the government considered how to respond to the threat issued by Mr Trimble.

John Reid said no alternative to Agreement was on offer
John Reid said no alternative to Agreement was on offer

"If there is an alternative to the Good Friday Agreement, I have never seen it, no-one has ever explained it to me," he said.

"It has been backed by the people of Ireland, north and south of the border, by all the major political parties who have sustained it up to this point and, quite apart from that, there can be no sustainable future for Northern Ireland unless it's based on the principles that are enshrined inside the Agreement."

Dr Reid added he still believed both unionists and republicans were committed to the process, although both needed reassurances.

Mr Cowen also emphasised the Irish Government's determination for the full implementation of the Agreement.

On Thursday, a Sinn Fein delegation is to meet the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, in Dublin.

Election

Party president Gerry Adams, Northern Ireland Education Minister Martin McGuinness and Health Minister Bairbre de Brun are to attend the meeting.

Sinn Fein has condemned the Ulster Unionist threat to leave the executive and another move to immediately impose a sanction of boycotting North-South Ministerial Council meetings in which Sinn Fein is involved.

The governments are closely examining their options after any unionist withdrawal takes place.

The alternatives include suspending the institutions or calling an early election.

The governments could take the view that a spring poll will help resolve the current instability.

However, they may also fear that it will damage the political centre ground so badly that it would make any future deal between the parties impossible to reach.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's political editor Mark Devenport:
"Richard Haass has a reputation for not mincing words"
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:

25 Sep 02 | N Ireland
21 Sep 02 | N Ireland
21 Sep 02 | N Ireland
19 Sep 02 | N Ireland
19 Sep 02 | N Ireland
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