Frank Millar reported yesterday, in the subscription only Irish Times, that David Trimble has given the British government until next Monday to expel Sinn Fein. He notes:
“…while the British government grasped this apparent breathing space, some Whitehall sources accepted its only likely effect would be to force the British government to suspend the Executive and other institutions of government established under the Belfast Agreement either side of the weekend.”
Speaking to sources within the Unionist Party, he says that Trimble is still prepared to share power with Republicans in government, but:
“asked if Mr Trimble had given Mr Blair scope for a negotiation with Mr Adams, the unionist sources told The Irish Times: ‘We’ve gone beyond that point. And it [any republican declaration of intent] would fall far short of what would be necessary in the present circumstances.’ The same sources suggested Mr Trimble retained the option of tabling his own exclusion motion by Monday if Mr Blair had not reached the point of decision.”
It seems unlikely that the British government will move against Sinn Fein directly, as this is likely only to polarise the position even further, forcing the moderate Nationalist SDLP to jump one way or the other.
Gerry Moriarty, in the same paper, gives coverage to another scenario floated by an academic close to Trimble:
“Prof Paul Bew, a close associate of Mr Trimble has suggested a 12 -month postponement to May 2004, during which time a degree of mutual trust between unionists and Sinn Féin might be established. London appears to have some sympathy with Prof Bew’s idea, while Dublin is totally against, saying it would be a denial of democracy. British sources wonder what is the point of holding May elections when, without a dramatic gesture from the IRA, it would just re-create the current deadlock. Why not create additional time so that outstanding issues such as the IRA further proving its commitment to the peace process, policing, demilitarisation, criminal justice, human rights, etc can be fully resolved and then have elections.”