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Friday, 11 February, 2000, 21:39 GMT
Assembly suspension 'not the end of peace'

Sinn Fein members Mitchel McLaughlin, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness Last ditch move by Sinn Fein was not unexpected


The suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly is a major blow to the peace process, but not necessarily peace, according to political analysts.

Jonathan Moore, principal lecturer in Irish Studies at the University of North London, said that although both sides of the political divide would be teetering on a total withdrawal from discussions, public opinion could hold them together.

"The recriminations have started because, clearly, a very major concern for all political parties involved in this is knowing that public opinion is so supportive of the peace process, the last thing they want is their party to be blamed for the breakdown of it.



It is a major blow to the peace process as we know it. But it is not necessarily a terminal blow to peace
Jonathan Moore
"So we see both David Trimble and Gerry Adams saying: 'It's not us it's the other side to blame'."

According to Mr Moore, the last minute attempt by republicans to save the assembly despite weeks of apparent inaction was not unexpected.

"It is not unusual for Sinn Fein, in these kind of negotiations, to suddenly change track.

"Clearly they had been saying very little in recent weeks about decommissioning and suddenly, at the 11th hour, we get something that doesn't go anything like as far enough as the unionists would like, but certainly uses language that they haven't used before in terms of a positive timetable for decommissioning."

"It is a major blow to the peace process as we know it. But it is not necessarily a terminal blow to peace.

Ceasefires holding

"Peace is the absence of violence and in Northern Ireland, at the moment, the ceasefires are holding.

"The last time these failed, it was a long time before anything got going again. But the difference between now and 1974, when Sunningdale failed, is that it failed at a time when there was a war going on in Northern Ireland. We've now got peace."

The assembly Politicans have proved they can co-operate
Mr Moore said that both leading politicians could now face internal party pressures - against their own wishes - challenging renewed co-operation.

"The old adage that politics is the art of the possible is shown once again in Northern Ireland.

"It isn't enough for Gerry Adams and David Trimble to agree. They represent important sections of Northern Irish opinion and it is absolutely clear that, just like Mr Trimble believed he could not deliver the Ulster Unionists without decommissioning, Gerry Adams did not believe he could deliver the IRA on decommissioning.

"That is the problem: The constituencies are less flexible than the men themselves."

Reasons for optimism

Mr Moore said any relaunch of discussions would hinge on the contents of the reports by General John de Chastelain, but added that there were still reasons for optimism.

"It will be crucial to see both these reports and it will answer the million dollar question - were the IRA, in the eyes of the general, moving towards decommissioning?"

"I think there will be a sense of real disappointment. Some people will say look what has been achieved, others will say it failed.

"But quite a lot of people will say we can't go back from this. The ceasefires are holding, we've shown politicians will sit down together from as divergent traditions as unionism and republicanism. Let's build on that."
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