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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
DUP to pull out of executive
The Democratic Unionist Party is to withdraw from the power-sharing executive at Stormont within 24 hours, following allegations of IRA intelligence gathering.
Party sources have told the BBC that its two ministers are to tender their resignations on Tuesday as the crisis in the political process deepens.
The development comes after Northern Ireland's chief constable Hugh Orde apologised for the manner in which Sinn Fein's Stormont office was raided last Friday.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, he said the searches of Sinn Fein's office and at addresses in north and west Belfast were "essential," but he admitted there had been "errors of judgement" in how the Stormont search had been conducted.
"I've looked at the film, and I think we could have done the raid itself in a more sensitive and appropriate style," he said.
"But I would make the point that the need to search that office was clear in my mind as an investigator.
"That had to be done. That is not the issue for me. It is the style in which we did it and I think we could have done it better."
Mr Orde said he had held meetings with senior officers who directed the raid, the assembly speaker and the nationalist SDLP.
Earlier, Sinn Fein was accused of "political conspiracy on a massive scale" by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble following the allegations of IRA intelligence gathering which have resulted from the raid.
He said he wanted Prime Minister Tony Blair to act following the raid.
The Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, called on the government to suspend Sinn Fein from the executive.
He said recent events were "horrendous" and he said the government had a responsibility and duty to act and unless direct rule was imposed it would be guilty of prevarication.
Allegations of IRA intelligence gathering within the Northern Ireland Office are to be debated by the Stormont Government on Tuesday, following a request by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Earlier, DUP leader Ian Paisley said he had filed a letter with the Speaker's office containing notice of the DUP ministers' resignation from the Northern Ireland Executive, to come into force immediately if Mr Trimble withdrew his ministers.
However, DUP sources later said the ministers would withdraw on Tuesday because Mr Trimble did not respond to their initiative.
They said they believed resigning would have the impact they desire, namely the downfall of the power-sharing executive.
The sources said Mr Blair might make an offer at Downing Street when he meets the Ulster Unionist leader on Tuesday in order to "prop-up" Mr Trimble, but that the "executive now deserves a decent burial".
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams dismissed the police raid as "political theatre" and said it was aimed at discrediting republicans in anticipation of a threatened unionist walkout from the executive.
"In my view this is because an element within the British system, working out that the institutions are likely to come down, are trying to ensure that if and when that happens, it will happen at a time and in a way that republicans get the blame," he said.
Mr Trimble is to meet Mr Blair on Tuesday to discuss the latest crisis in the peace process.
The Ulster Unionist leader said he would delay taking action on "this conspiracy was ten times worse than Watergate" until he had heard what the prime minister had to say.
The Northern Ireland first minister also accused the Northern Ireland Office of "massive incompetence" over the affair.
His comments came after a senior member of Sinn Fein, Denis Donaldson, appeared in court on Sunday charged with having information likely to be of use to terrorists.
He was one of four people arrested in north and west Belfast last Friday as part of an ongoing investigation into IRA intelligence gathering within the Northern Ireland Office.
Mr Donaldson, Sinn Fein's head of administration in the assembly, has been charged with possessing documents including the personal details of the senior British army officer in Northern Ireland, Lt Gen Sir Alistair Irwin.
He denies the charge. He was remanded in custody at a special Sunday sitting of Belfast Magistrates Court.
Meanwhile, police have carried out another search of a house in west Belfast and taken away a number of items.
The house in Andersonstown had previously been searched on Friday. A man who lives there is still in police custody.
Mr Blair's official spokesman called for a "short breathing space" to take stock of the situation.
Mr Blair is to meet the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on Wednesday.
The prime minister is also expected to meet Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and the SDLP's Mark Durkan.
Northern Ireland deputy first minister and SDLP leader Mark Durkan said his party did not yet have enough information about the circumstances surrounding the raid at Stormont to make any "definitive judgments".
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern is meeting Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams
Speaking shortly before the talks, Mr Ahern said he was keen to see the devolved institutions maintained.
Mr Adams described the apology from the chief constable as "gracious, but a bit late".
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