- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

LONDON Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble demanded yesterday that the political wing of the Irish Republican Army be kicked out of the province's executive by next week a move that could wreck the tottering power-sharing arrangement.

Mr. Trimble gave British Prime Minister Tony Blair until Monday to send a motion to the Northern Ireland Assembly to "exclude" Sinn Fein from the province's government in light of evidence that Sinn Fein has been spying for the IRA. Seized documents reportedly include secret conversations between Mr. Blair and President Bush.

Unless Sinn Fein is ousted from the government, Mr. Trimble told journalists after an emergency meeting with Mr. Blair at the latter's 10 Downing Street office, he will have "no alternative" but to pull his dominant Ulster Unionist Party out of the executive. That could push the whole Northern Ireland power-sharing agreement over the edge.

It shaped up as the most serious threat to the peace process in the province since the agreement was signed four years ago. Mr. Blair, working to stave off a collapse, also called for more emergency talks for today, this time with Sinn Fein's leaders and with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

"It is a very serious situation," Mr. Blair conceded even before his meeting with Mr. Trimble. "Now we have got to discuss with the parties the best way through this."

Political sources suggested that unless he can get the parties involved back to some sort of agreement, Mr. Blair might opt to suspend the Northern Ireland executive and resume running the province from London until the problems can be ironed out.

The crisis was triggered by a police raid on Sinn Fein's offices in Stormont Palace, the seat of the provincial government. Authorities said they were acting on reports that Sinn Fein was receiving intelligence information from a "mole" in the office of Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid and passing it on to the IRA.

The charges included reports that Sinn Fein spies had obtained top-secret transcripts of telephone conversations between Mr. Blair and President Bush. Other documents seen by the IRA were said to have included memos from Mr. Reid to intelligence chiefs.

Police arrested four suspects, three of whom have appeared in court to face charges of possessing information of use to terrorists.

Mr. Trimble accused Sinn Fein of "political conspiracy on a massive scale," and said, "The time when the Republicans could ride the two horses is at an end."

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