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Assembly plan must lead to N Ireland govt -Sinn Fein

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Apr 3 (Reuters) Sinn Fein today said plans to revive the suspended Northern Ireland assembly, to be announced this week by Britain and Ireland, must lead to the formation of a government.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern are widely expected to announce a two-stage plan on Thursday under which the Belfast-based assembly, elected by Northern Irish voters, would be restored next month.

The assembly, in which opposing pro-British and pro-Irish parties shared the running of Northern Ireland's affairs, was suspended in 2002 amid recriminations over the activities of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrilla group.

Irish media have reported the plans would give the assembly six weeks to agree a power-sharing executive or face suspension.

If no executive is agreed in June, new rules would be drawn up and the assembly would have until November to reach a deal.

It would be wound up if there was no consensus by then.

''I hope when the prime minister(s) come to Armagh on Thursday they have a plan which will see decisive action vis-a-vis the institutions,'' said Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness after he and party leader Gerry Adams met Blair.

Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally which represents most Roman Catholics who want a united Ireland, says a full restoration is part of 1998's Good Friday Agreement.

''What needs to be done is that the suspension of the institutions should be ended, the attempt made to form a government and if the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) are not prepared to participate in that then they should move on.'' The pro-British DUP which represents most of the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland want a gradual approach with the assembly initially just given scrutinising powers.

Despite last July's agreement by the IRA, which waged a 30-year campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, to down arms for good, the DUP says it will not enter government with Sinn Fein for the ''foreseeable future''.

McGuinness said Sinn Fein would ''under no circumstances'' participate in a ''shadow assembly''.

Blair and Ahern have been trying for several years to break the deadlock and have said 2006 will be ''make or break'' for the political future of Northern Ireland.

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