Volatile Elements in N. Ireland's New Political Formula under Blair Plan, Self-Rule Assembly to Meet July 15; IRA Arms Handover

By Alexander MacLeod, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 1999 | Go to article overview

Volatile Elements in N. Ireland's New Political Formula under Blair Plan, Self-Rule Assembly to Meet July 15; IRA Arms Handover


Alexander MacLeod, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In the next few days the lone British bobby who guards the door of 10 Downing Street had better get used to doing a lot of saluting.

Chances are he'll have to greet 27 Ulster Unionist members of Northern Ireland's legislative assembly. Government sources in London say the assembly members soon will each receive an invitation to an unprecedented face-to-face meeting with Tony Blair.

The British leader is working to a deliberately tight July 15 deadline to get the province's pro-British Protestants to agree to share political power with Catholics in a self-rule government. Beyond the shiny black door of the prime minister's London residence, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland's religious majority can expect to come under intense pressure on this issue. Changes to 'final' peace plan? And in a bid to dispel Unionist doubts - which by the weekend appeared considerable - Mr. Blair will offer to make limited changes to the supposedly "final" peace plan hammered out in a marathon five- day bargaining session last week in Belfast. Senior British government officials say he plans to give the assembly members assurances that if the Irish Republican Army fails to begin decommissioning its terrorist weapons in the coming weeks, the Northern Ireland assembly will remain in existence, without the IRA's political ally, Sinn Fein, as part of it. Earlier Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, had indicated that the assembly and all other aspects of last year's Good Friday agreement would be suspended if the IRA failed to give up or destroy its weapons. In an extremely unclear situation, specialists on Northern Ireland are reluctant to predict the outcome of the coming days of bargaining. Deagln de Bradn, analyst in Belfast for the Dublin- based Irish Times, says the answer to whether the IRA will decommission its weapons is "a definite maybe." Blair and Mr. Ahern say they have been assured that "within days" the IRA will then begin handing in its arms. Blair has set July 15 as the date for the executive to be approved by the assembly, probably in a brief but highly symbolic session. By September, the assembly would reconvene, by which time, the two premiers say, it will be possible to decide whether or not decommissioning is under way. This formula differs sharply from current Unionist demands that decommissioning should begin ahead of the appointment of ministers to the executive body, or at the very least simultaneously with it. …

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