BAD FRIDAY; 'NIGHTMARE SCENARIO' IN ELECTIONS Peace Process 'Hamstrung' I Am Not the Leader of a Church but I Do Not Know of Any Christian Philosophy Which Is Not about Dialogue. and as a Sinner I Offer Myself Up, and on Behalf of Those Who I Represent, to Be Converted by Dr Paisley to His Vision of the Future GERRY ADAMS YESTERDAY

Article excerpt

Byline: OONAGH BLACKMAN Deputy Political Editor

THE Ulster peace process was in crisis last night after hardliners seized control of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists - now the largest party - have ruled out sitting in government with Sinn Fein, the third largest.

A senior government source said: "It's the nightmare scenario for Tony Blair.

"If the biggest party won't speak to Sinn Fein we are hamstrung for some time."

However, there was some hope on the horizon last night when Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said "as a sinner I offer myself up... to be converted by Dr Paisley".

When all the votes had been counted, the DUP won 30 seats, 10 more than in the last Assembly. David Trimble's Ulster Unionists won 27 (28 last time), Sinn Fein 24 (18) and the SDLP 18 (24).

The eclipse of the moderate Ulster Unionists by the DUP and the nationalist SDLP by Sinn Fein dismayed Downing Street.

Mr Blair met Irish PM Bertie Ahern yesterday to try to get the Good Friday Agreement back on track.

The PM has invested enormous personal effort in the peace process and even flew to Northern Ireland in the days after his heart scare.

But his appeal for voters to back the peace process by sticking with First Minister Mr Trimble's pro-Agreement UUP fell on deaf ears.

In a joint statement last night the British and Irish governments said they would move quickly to try to restore devolution.

They also promised to bring forward proposals in the New Year for a review of the Good Friday Agreement.

They insisted: "This is a review of the operation of the Agreement. Its fundamentals are not open to renegotiation. …