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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

IRA Guns Hinder Ulster's 'Devolution'




DUBLIN, Ireland -- Northern Ireland is entering a historic week with the scheduled resumption of some home rule and power-sharing between Protestants and Catholics, but a dispute over Irish Republican Army guns may spoil the party.


Celebrations to mark "Devolution Day" on Wednesday are on hold over resistance among pro-British Protestant politicians led by David Trimble to the Catholic pro-Irish Sinn Fein taking executive seats before its IRA military wing starts disarming.


The fear is that Protestant and republican Catholic gunmen observing sustained cease-fires to back the April 10, 1998, peace treaty could step in to fill any political vacuum.


That is what they have done before over 30 years of violence in which more than 3,600 people have been killed.


Other aspects of the April deal are being put in place. But Trimble and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, who are due to meet Tuesday to try to end the disagreement, seem no closer to a compromise called for by Trimble's Catholic deputy, Seamus Mallon.


Last week, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of Ireland and Trimble, British-ruled Northern Ireland's prime-minister-in-waiting, agreed to details of British-Irish treaties for new all-Ireland bodies. That opened the door for them to be signed in Dublin this week.


Trimble and Mallon suggested possible compromises Sunday. Trimble said he would guarantee Sinn Fein swift entry to the executive following a positive move on weapons, while Mallon suggested a timetable for disarmament was necessary.


But Trimble has signalled he would reject such a compromise, saying the accord already contains an implicit timetable.


Adams accused Trimble of jeopardizing the deal, writing in an article given to the media Sunday that Trimble's approach was in line with a plan by supporters of British rule to wreck the dealand push the IRA back to war.


"Mr. Trimble is threatening to crash the process over guns which have been silent," Adams wrote in the article, which is to be published in the New York-based Irish Voice next week.


He wrote that Trimble was "pushing the entire process to the cliff edge" and rewriting the accord.


Trimble is under enormous political pressure. The deal split Northern Ireland's Protestant community in half, partly due to fears that Sinn Fein was right when it proclaimed that the accord was the start of the end of British rule.


A survey last week showed 41 percent of Protestants supported the deal, compared to 55 percent when it was signed.


The deal says any party which does not show its commitment to peaceful means and to using all its influence to achieve disarmament can be excluded. Sinn Fein says it is doing this.


Although the accord specifies no starting date for disarmament, Trimble says its provisions for a system of decommissioning being in place in the middle of last year meant arms should have started being handed in from that date.