Protestants seek to oust IRA-linked Sinn Fein from Northern Ireland government

Monday, October 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Protestants sought the support of moderate Catholics in a bid to expel Sinn Fein from Northern Ireland's government Monday, threatening to bring down the fragile coalition if the party linked with the Irish Republican Army is not ousted.

The effort appeared doomed in advance, however, because the chief Catholic-backed party in the power-sharing government has repeatedly said it would not vote Sinn Fein out.

The two British Protestant parties in the four-party coalition published rival motions calling for the immediate expulsion of Sinn Fein. Both cited the outlawed IRA's refusal to scrap its weapons as was envisioned in the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.

The motions faced a debate and vote Monday in Northern Ireland's 108-seat legislature, from which the administration is drawn. But the moderate Social Democratic and Labor Party has said it would not vote to kick anybody out of government _ a stance party members repeated Monday.

The appointment or expulsion of Cabinet members requires majority support from both Protestant and Catholic blocs.

The Protestant side has pledged to resign from the joint Cabinet within days if Sinn Fein is not ousted, forcing the collapse of the 22-month-old administration that was created as a result of the 1998 pact.

Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, who resigned in July as the administration's Protestant leader, said his party would launch ``a phased withdrawal'' from the government if the vote didn't go his way.

Trimble's motion called on lawmakers to agree that Sinn Fein ``does not enjoy the confidence of the Assembly because it is not committed to nonviolence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means.''

The phrase referred to a pledge Sinn Fein made in 1997, when it joined negotiations on Northern Ireland's future after an IRA cease-fire. The nonviolence pledge _ drafted by the American leading the talks, George Mitchell _ committed Sinn Fein to achieve IRA disarmament.

During the debate, Sinn Fein speakers accused Trimble of using the IRA's weapons as an excuse for stopping power-sharing with Catholics in general.

``It seems Mr. Trimble's commitment to democratic means extends only to the point where he fails to get his way,'' said Sinn Fein's Bairbre de Brun, health minister in the government.

The motion filed by the most hard-line Protestant party, Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, said the IRA remained ``an active terrorist organization'' and alleged Sinn Fein leaders continued to play a dominant role in IRA decisions.

British and Irish anti-terrorist police say that the IRA's seven-member executive council includes at least three senior Sinn Fein figures, including Martin McGuinness, education minister in the Northern Ireland government.

In continuing violence in Northern Ireland, a gang attacked a prison officer's home, injuring his 17-year-old daughter, who was alone in the house, police said Monday.

The assailants forced their way through the door of the home in Portadown, attacked the daughter and set the house on fire. The girl remained hospitalized Monday with cuts and bruises.

The Prison Officers Association blamed the attack Sunday night on Protestant militants in Portadown who have friends behind bars at a nearby prison.

Also Sunday night, a Belfast pub that has received occasional threats from two outlawed Protestant groups was hit with at least one shotgun blast from a passing car, bouncers at the door said.