Collapse of Irish peace process feared

LONDON OCT. 5. An imminent collapse of the Northern Ireland peace process was widely predicted today as the Unionists stepped up pressure for the expulsion of Sinn Fein from the ruling coalition following Friday's unprecedented raids on its offices in Belfast in connection with allegations of `spying' by its militant wing, the IRA.

There were indications that the British Government might be forced to step in if police investigations confirm suspicions of an IRA spy ring in the heart of the provincial administration. The normally optimistic Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid, hinted that the peace process might be in jeopardy when he warned that `lawbreaking' would not be tolerated.

``The peace process can't be sustained on the basis of tolerating lawbreaking,'' he said, adding that its "political consequences'' could be serious. His remarks assumed significance after it emerged that his own office in Northern Ireland had been among the targets of the IRA's `spy' operation. He said he had been aware of the police investigations but had not personally sanctioned the raids which came a day after he warned republicans that, as participants in the Government, they must renounce violence completely. "You cannot continue to ride two horses at once, especially if the two horses are as far apart as violence and democracy,'' he told them.

Even as the Sinn Fein denounced the raids as "politically motivated'', the Unionists said the police action confirmed their fears about continuing IRA activity in breach of the Good Friday agreement. David Trimble, moderate leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and head of the provincial government, said the developments had "grave implications'' for the peace process. He is to meet the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, next week to press for action against Sinn Fein. He has already threatened to take his party out of the power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland if the IRA does not disarm completely in the next three months.

Hardline Unionists said there was no point "hanging on'' to the arrangements as it was `clear' that militant republicanism was still alive and kicking. "The fact that such a raid has taken place must drive a coach and horses through protestations that Sinn Fein is committed to exclusively peaceful means,'' a leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, which is opposed to the Good Friday agreement said.

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