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N. Ireland: No Power Sharing Deal Yet

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It's going to be another week at least before the leadership of Northern Ireland's largest Protestant group decides on whether it will share power with Roman Catholic republicans in the latest peace initiative.

A special convention of the Ulster Unionist Party's ruling council, originally set for Saturday, has been rescheduled for May 27th.

The UUP's leader, David Trimble, Saturday stepped up his campaign to unite his divided pro-British party and keep the province's fragile peace process alive.

Trimble, who won the Nobel peace prize for his efforts to bring stability to the province, faces an uphill struggle in persuading his party to re-enter the power-sharing government.

His comments followed a groundbreaking offer by Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrillas on disarmament, which could set the foundation for a return of power-sharing.

Trimble stressed that any moves the UUP made were not irreversible and that the party would only share power with Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally, as long as the group moved towards putting weapons beyond use.

"Not until they (the IRA) become irreversibly committed to peace and democracy will we become irreversibly committed to any situation at all," Trimble told BBC Radio Ulster. "We retain complete freedom of action ourselves."

Anti-agreement UUP members have said an unprecedented offer by the IRA to allow international monitors to inspect weapons dumps does not go far enough in fulfilling UUP demands for guerrilla groups to "put weapons beyond use" (decommissioning).
Trimble said the IRA offer was a "confidence-building measure," and although he stopped short of laying down a timetable he was adamant the group would have to live up to the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement and decommission weapons.

In the News Letter newspaper Trimble said the IRA offer "must eventually lead to decommissioning. There is no difference in practical terms if IRA weapons are made permanently inaccessible (in monitored weapons dumps) or unusable."

In a bid to get UUP skeptics to ditch the power-sharing plan at a UUP ruling council meeting rescheduled for May 27 one of Trimble's chief opponents lambasted his claims that the IRA would decommission.

"The document makes it clear that the IRA aren't going to decommission," Ian Paisley, a firebrand politician-cleric and head of the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party, said on BBC Radio Ulster.

"The current threat to the Union is drastic. Never did I believe that the official Unionist Party leader would be the chief salesman for an IRA document," Paisley added.

Trimble barely survived a leadership challenge in March when critics accused him of softening demands for IRA disarmament.

Trimble was confident.

"I think we will secure a majority. No alternative is being presented. There is a road that we are following which leads to peace and democracy...ad a secure Northern Ireland within the Union (of Britain and Northern Ireland), Trimble said.

Britain suspended a 72-day-old power-sharing government in February after the IRA refused to disarm. But the IRA's offer two weeks ago and Britain's pledge to restore powersharing to the province lifted peace hopes out of the doldrums.

The moves are part of a British-Irish intitiative to end 30 years of sectarian strife that has killed 3,600 people.