Protestant Leader Vows to Resign Unless IRA Disarms

The Protestant leader of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government said Tuesday he would resign if the Irish Republican Army doesn't begin to disarm by July 1.

The public ultimatum from First Minister David Trimble set him on another dangerous collision course with the IRA and its allied Sinn Fein party, which is a junior member of the four-party government Trimble heads.

"I have this day signed and lodged with you a letter resigning as first minister as from 1 July 2001," Trimble told John Alderdice, the speaker of Northern Ireland's legislature, to gasps and groans from lawmakers. "This letter will take effect unless before that date, the republican movement (the IRA and Sinn Fein) keeps the promise it made over a year ago."

Trimble's resignation would precipitate either the suspension or the collapse of the coalition, the centerpiece of the 1998 peace accord. Britain has already suspended the local government once before when the IRA's refusal to disarm put Trimble in jeopardy.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, who is education minister in the government, warned Trimble that his resignation would be "disastrous" for the peace process.

McGuinness, a former IRA commander, also predicted that Trimble's announcement would make IRA weapons moves "less likely."

Britain's minister responsible for Northern Ireland, John Reid, criticized Trimble's action as counterproductive. Reid said it would "be highly regrettable if he were to exclude himself from institutions which are already improving the lives of people in Northern Ireland."

A year ago, as part of a wider deal that resuscitated the power-sharing government, the IRA issued an unprecedented proclamation to put its weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use."

But so far the outlawed group has not scrapped a single bullet, building pressure once again on Trimble. He leads the province's major British Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, but faces considerable Protestant hostility to the 1998 accord.

The more hard-line Democratic Unionist Party, which takes part in the power-sharing government but wants to bring it down, is hoping to outpoll Trimble's party in upcoming national elections and fatally undermine the Ulster Unionist chief. Trimble's declaration Tuesday appeared designed in part to undercut Democratic Unionist allegations that he would remain in government alongside Sinn Fein indefinitely.

People's Daily Online ---