Under the terms of what is known as the Good Friday agreement reached between political parties and the British and Irish governments in April 1998, a new assembly--now ended--was given limited powers of self-government in the British occupied six counties in Northern Ireland. The IRA has now withdrawn from negotiations on the "decommissioning" of weapons and has taken off the table all proposals it had put forward since November on the issue.
The British government and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) "obviously have no desire to deal with the issue of arms except on their own terms. Those who seek a military victory in this way need to understand that this cannot and will not happen," a February 15 statement released by the IRA said, which was widely quoted in the press here.
Sinn Fein is the political organization leading the struggle for a democratic and united Ireland, free from British rule. The IRA has organized a decades-long series of armed actions aimed at ending British occupation of the north.
Dublin proposed London reconvene the executive committee and the assembly. Irish foreign minister Brian Cowen said he did not want "direct rule to continue for a moment longer than necessary."
The British government used as a pretext for the suspension of the assembly the lack of progress by the IRA in surrendering its weapons. But the timetable demanded by London was not part of the agreement, leading Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams to insist that the issue "no longer be used as a block on progress."
The British government's decision to suspend the assembly has more to do with the continued resistance of the Irish people to its rule and the growing fractures in the pro-British forces.
For example, London's move came on the eve of a February 12 meeting of the UUP. Last fall, in order to win agreement to join the executive of the assembly from the increasingly divided party, UUP leader David Trimble submitted a postdated resignation letter to be effected if the IRA had not laid out plans to surrender its weapons. The letter was dated February 12. This is why Adams puts the blame on London, saying it has been "driven by a unilateral unionist demand and deadline" and that "there is a deep sense of anger and frustration at the way in which the UUP has dictated events and effectively set aside the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement."
Adams went on to explain how the British government had chosen to ignore an initiative by the IRA in the hours before he announced the suspension of the Assembly. The IRA offered a plan to "put its arms beyond use," in the "context of the removal of the causes of the conflict."
Since the British-orchestrated suspension of the assembly, the UUP has puffed up its chest, insisting that the body will not reconvene until the IRA has established the time, place, and method of surrendering its weapons.
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