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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
Blair demands end of IRA violence
Mr Blair delivered a hard-hitting speech in Belfast
Mr Blair delivered a hard-hitting speech in Belfast
The IRA must remove its threat of violence in order for the Northern Ireland political process to succeed, Tony Blair has said.

In a keynote speech in Belfast, the prime minister said "we cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process. Not just because it isn't right any more. It won't work anymore".

Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive was suspended for the fourth time at midnight on Monday following allegations of IRA intelligence gathering in the Northern Ireland Office.

The continuing existence of the IRA as an active paramilitary organisation is now the best card those whom republicans call 'rejectionist' unionists, have in their hand

Tony Blair

Mr Blair said the continuing existence of the IRA "totally justifies" rejectionist unionists' refusal to share power with republicans.

He said the IRA was thwarting Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble's attempts to share power.

'Fork in the road'

In response to the prime minister's speech, Mr Trimble said there was "an unambiguous finger pointing towards the IRA and the role of republicans in destabilising unionist confidence".

Unionist politicians have led calls for the IRA to disband amid further crisis in the political process.

Addressing an invited audience of business people, the prime minister said: "There is no parallel track left. The fork in the road has finally come.

"Whatever guarantees we need to give that we will implement the Agreement, we will. Whatever commitment to the end we all want to see, of a normalised Northern Ireland, I will make.

"But we cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process. Not just because it isn't right any more. It won't work anymore.

"Remove the threat of violence and the peace process is on an unstoppable path. That threat, no matter how damped down, is no longer reinforcing the political, it is actually destroying it."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he believed the IRA had made a "sterling contribution to this process".

"I clearly want to see an end to all of the armed groups, I have, and our leadership has, a strategy to bring that about.

"But I deal with all of the armed groups, I don't tolerate what the loyalist paramilitaries are doing, I don't tolerate the allegations of IRA activity and I certainly don't tolerate what the British forces or the police service are doing."

He added: "The IRA can read this speech for themselves and will make their own mind up on this."

Mr Trimble said it was good Mr Blair had put Northern Ireland high on his priority list.

However, he added: "The crucial question is how will the government follow through in terms of what must be done over the next few months?"

Speaking in Dublin, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern backed the speech.

"The republican movement's continued integration into the democratic fabric is the best - and indeed only - way of fulfilling its political objectives and ably representing its community," he said.

Armed groups

The Loyalist Commission, an umbrella group of politicians, clergy and paramilitary representatives, said the Irish Government could now exploit the political crisis in Belfast.

In a statement, it said: "The Commission is concerned that the government of the Republic of Ireland will now attempt to have unaccountable and unacceptable authority in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

"Such a development would be detrimental to an already fragile search for peace."

Earlier on Thursday, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said the complete implementation of the Good Friday Agreement would put huge pressure on all armed groups in Northern Ireland to disband.

Mr McGuinness, who was explaining his party's proposals for finding a way out of the political impasse, said it was "highly unlikely" that paramilitaries would disarm under the current terms set by unionists.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness: "Highly unlikely" paramilitaries will disarm under unionist terms

Speaking in Belfast on Thursday, the former education minister said implementing reforms on issues such as policing, justice and demilitarisation, would pose a huge challenge to all armed groups about their continued existence.

"The key to it is to ensure that the agreement is implemented in full," he said.

Further talks are expected to take place behind the scene between politicians and officials in an attempt to restore confidence in the political process.

Earlier this month, Mr Trimble said his party would pull out of power sharing unless the UK Government proposed the expulsion of Sinn Fein from the Stormont administration.

Unionists demanded Sinn Fein's expulsion from government over allegations of IRA activity, including claims it was involved in training left-wing Colombian guerrillas and was behind a break-in at the police's Belfast headquarters in March.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Simpson
"Tony Blair told the IRA is was time to go out of business"
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
"I intend to keep working with Tony Blair to bring all of this to completion"
Albert Reynolds, ex Irish Prime Minister
"There's still an amount to be done"

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See also:

17 Oct 02 | N Ireland
17 Oct 02 | N Ireland
17 Oct 02 | N Ireland
17 Oct 02 | N Ireland
14 Oct 02 | N Ireland
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