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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 22:07 GMT 23:07 UK
Ahern hints at suspending assembly
Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair in London
The two premiers held talks in Downing Street
The Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has suggested his government may be willing to accept suspension of the Northern Ireland Executive as a way of dealing with the latest crisis in the political process.

Mr Ahern was speaking as he went into talks with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street on Wednesday evening.

Allegations of IRA intelligence gathering within the Northern Ireland Office are threatening the future of the power-sharing administration at Stormont.

Speaking before the meeting Mr Ahern said the Good Friday Agreement was the agenda for the talks and that it remained the template for progress in Northern Ireland.


We don't want to see suspension but if there is not trust between the parties then they cannot work

Bertie Ahern
Irish Taoiseach

"The situation is obviously serious and we hope to be able to have a full assessment of where we are and how we can move forward," he said.

"We have to see how we can manage what is a very difficult situation with the emerging events of the last few weeks.

Mr Ahern said the Irish government wanted to see the Stormont institutions work and was against suspension.

"We all know the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement and we want to see the institutions work, we want to see them function, but of course they cannot function unless there is trust between the parties.

'Injured'

"We don't want to see suspension, but if there is not trust between the parties then they cannot work."

Meanwhile, police in Northern Ireland have set up a special unit to warn people whose personal details were found on documents linked to intelligence gathering material during police raids in Belfast last week.

A police statement warned the information was in the hands of paramilitary organisations.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Blair met the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan.

Mr Durkan said suspension of the devolved institutions was the most likely option for the government in the coming days.

The SDLP leader said confidence could be restored in the Agreement.

Mark Durkan:
Mark Durkan: "Suspension is likely option"

The meetings come a day after the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said his party would pull out of power sharing within a week unless the UK Government proposed the expulsion of Sinn Fein from the executive.

Mr Durkan said if the political institutions were suspended next week, it would mean the Agreement was "injured but will not be crippled".

The deputy first minister added there now needed to be a meeting of the British-Irish inter-governmental council.

He said the overall situation would be aided if "there was no IRA for people to worry about".

"We can't be expected to support exclusion (of Sinn Fein ministers) in these circumstances," said Mr Durkan.

"Equally, the Ulster Unionist Party can't be expected to continue on in the executive indefinitely in these circumstances."

Mr Blair said he needed to know from Sinn Fein that its members were committed to "exclusively peaceful means" if the process was to succeed.

In an interview with the BBC World Service, Mr Blair said it was up to all the parties, as well as both governments, to recognise their obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble
David Trimble: Issued ultimatum

Mr Trimble called on Mr Blair to send a motion for debate at the Northern Ireland Assembly, or his party would have "no alternative" but to withdraw from the Stormont government.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Belfast on Wednesday, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the British Government should not act outside the Good Friday Agreement by suspending the political institutions or expelling his party.

"The job of the British government is to minimise the damage that will be done by any exodus of the unionists," he said.

Mr Blair has said he is "absolutely determined" to find a solution to the political deadlock.

On Tuesday, DUP leader Ian Paisley accused Mr Trimble of trying to shift the responsibility for dealing with Sinn Fein on to the UK Government.

The allegations of intelligence gathering were also debated by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The debate followed the police raid on Sinn Fein's Stormont office, and addresses in north and west Belfast, on Friday.

Four people were arrested. Three have appeared in court accused of having information of use to terrorists.

A fourth person is still being questioned by police investigating alleged IRA intelligence gathering.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's London correspondent Stephen Walker:
"Bertie Ahern appeared to accept that suspension was inevitable"
The BBC's Tim Willcox
"Many now see suspension of the power-sharing executive as inevitable"
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern
"We hope to have a full assessment of where we are"
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 Oct 02 | N Ireland
08 Oct 02 | N Ireland
07 Oct 02 | N Ireland
07 Oct 02 | N Ireland
05 Oct 02 | N Ireland
04 Oct 02 | N Ireland
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