- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2003

LONDON — Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, said yesterday that he would not be rushing into negotiations with the British government or Sinn Fein following his unprecedented electoral victory in Northern Ireland last week.

In his first interview since the hard-line DUP became Northern Ireland’s biggest political party, Mr. Paisley forecast that he would be able to dictate the pace of any discussion over the 1998 Good Friday Agreement — and could stall it indefinitely.

“I may be in the driving seat, but I don’t necessarily have to drive,” he said.

“I can sit in that seat with a poker and give Tony Blair a poke in the ribs, but I don’t need to come up with any formula or solutions.”

The DUP’s success has left David Trimble, leader of the moderate Ulster Unionist party, fighting for his political career.

Mr. Paisley’s comments dash hopes that he might change his opposition to the 1998 peace accord.

He is also refusing to negotiate with Sinn Fein before the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is dismantled — making the likelihood of renewed power-sharing between Protestants and Catholics even more remote.

Northern Ireland’s Assembly was suspended more than a year ago following a scandal over IRA spying on the British government.

Mr. Paisley said that any move by Prime Minister Tony Blair to call a fresh election in the hope of a different outcome would only strengthen anti-agreement sentiment in Northern Ireland.

“The people will come out again and give him the same message in six weeks’ time or six months’ time,” he said. “The government has a more fundamental problem — they need to go back to the drawing board.”

Mr. Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern have rejected Mr. Paisley’s demand for the agreement to be redrawn.

The DUP won 30 seats in Wednesday’s election, beating the Ulster Unionist Party by three seats. Sinn Fein won 24 seats - six more than the Catholic Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP).

Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland secretary, is to hold a round of post-election talks with political leaders in the province.

He is expected to see Mr. Paisley tomorrow, followed by meetings with Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, and Mark Durkan, the SDLP leader.

Mr. Trimble’s position as leader of the Ulster Unionists appeared in doubt after Jeffrey Donaldson, an anti-agreement lawmaker in the party, called on him to resign.

“Over 230,000 Unionists voted for anti-agreement candidates, compared with 121,000 who voted for pro-agreement candidates,” Mr. Donaldson said. “You don’t need a calculator to tell you what that means.

“It would be in the interests of the party and unionism in general if David Trimble stood aside. The party cannot unite under his leadership and if we are to hold onto our … seats we have to change the direction the party has been heading in.

Mr. Trimble yesterday rejected calls that he quit.

“Every event makes you reflect, but I am not minded to go,” he said.

“In fact, actually, I have been very much encouraged by the people who, over the course of the last day, have been urging me not to think about these matters.”

Mr. Adams called on the British government to lift the suspension of the power-sharing administration and deliver its pledges on honoring the Good Friday Agreement.

“We want to see the suspension of the institutions lifted, and all of the other institutions that are part of the joint declaration that we negotiated — the unfinished business of the Good Friday Agreement — we want acts of completion on all of those.”

In a joint statement, the British and Irish governments said they respected the result of last week’s election and would do everything to restore the Assembly and power-sharing executive swiftly.

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

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