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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Blair postpones NI elections
Prime Minister Tony Blair
The IRA did not go far enough, said Tony Blair
The Northern Ireland Assembly elections have been postponed until the autumn over a lack of clarity about the IRA's future intentions, the government has said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said the IRA's point-blank refusal to rule out all paramilitary activities meant the postponement of the elections until the autumn was necessary.

The move, announced on Thursday, came against a background of intense discussions by the British and Irish Governments over the latest Sinn Fein assurances on the IRA's future intentions.

The governments discussed their options overnight after deciding that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams' latest assurance that the IRA would not engage in activities that would undermine the peace process did not go far enough.

Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Blair said: "Finally, yesterday afternoon, Gerry Adams did respond and said that the IRA leadership, and I quote, 'is determined that there will be no activities which will undermine the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement'.

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
I believe that yet another postponement causes more problems for the process than it solves
Bertie Ahern
Irish Taoiseach

"That's the general assurance. But there was a point blank refusal to rule out expressly the activities stated in paragraph 13 of the joint declaration."

That paragraph says there must be a full and immediate and permanent cessation of all paramilitary activity, including military attacks, training, targeting, intelligence-gathering, acquisition or development of arms or weapons, other preparations for terrorist campaigns, punishment beatings and attacks and involvement in riots.

Reacting to Mr Blair's comments, Gerry Adams insisted the IRA had answered the prime minister's questions.

"Let me say it once again - when I made my remarks on Sunday and Mr Blair queried my answer on the issues of IRA activity, I gave him his answer and I gave him precisely the answer he asked for at that time.

"He's now looking for a different answer. So rather than today moving the process forward, it has in many ways compounded the difficulties."

A difference of opinion has emerged between the British and Irish Governments over the decision, with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern saying he disagreed with the postponement.

"Ultimately, I believe that yet another postponement causes more problems for the process than it solves," said Mr Ahern in Dublin.

"While we do not agree with or endorse this step, let me make it clear that the strength and critical importance of the partnership between the two governments will endure."

'Election illogical'

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said he agreed with the postponement.

"The underlying problem that caused the suspension has to be resolved.

Gerry Adams
I gave him his answer and I gave him precisely the answer he asked for at that time
Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein leader

"It has not been possible to do so and of course, to proceed to elect to a body that has no prospect of meeting is illogical."

Earlier, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy told the Commons the government would now publish its joint declaration and called on the IRA to make public its statement.

The publication of the declaration was postponed last month after the governments said they needed the IRA to answer questions about a statement it submitted on 13 April.

Tony Blair said a statement from Mr Adams at the weekend that "there should be no activities inconsistent" with the Good Friday Agreement did not go far enough.

The prime minister wanted the word "should" changed to "will" - the word the Sinn Fein leader used in Wednesday's news conference in Belfast.

Northern Ireland's devolved administration was suspended on 14 October 2002, amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the heart of the Stormont government.



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