Britain suspends Northern Ireland assembly

B By Glenn Frankel

british officials suspended the province’s local assembly in which Protestants and Catholics share power and blamed the Irish Republican Army for a crisis in the Northern Ireland peace process.

John Reid, Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, stopped short of demanding that the IRA disband. “The means by which the republican movement decide how they make plain that choice is their decision,” he said. “But it has to be sufficient to address the concerns of the others” in the power-sharing arrangement.

Reid was referring to the predominantly Protestant unionists, who have insisted the IRA disband if they are to stay in the joint government, which was set up under the Good Friday agreement of 1998. Unionists favor keeping the province as part of Britain; republicans want it to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south.

Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, accused Reid of dishonesty in suspending the local assembly for the fourth time in three years. “He attempts to project himself and his government as referees,” said Adams, but “we are in this particular situation because once again unionists threaten the institutions and Dr. Reid moved to accommodate them.”

The crisis began after police arrested and charged four Sinn Fein members with plotting to gather intelligence that police said could be used by terrorists, a charge Sinn Fein officials have denied. Unionists say this incident and others, including the arrest over the weekend of five alleged IRA members in the Republic of Ireland, shows Sinn Fein is not serious about the peace process.