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N. Ireland Assembly Reinstated - 2001-08-12

The clock is ticking again in Northern Ireland. By suspending the province's power-sharing governing assembly for 24 hours and then reinstating it, Britain's Northern Ireland secretary has gained six weeks to get all political parties back to the peace process.

There is a sense that over the course of this new six-week period, the peace accord will either be made or broken.

But Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid remains optimistic. He believes there is still time for politicians in the province to resolve their differences.

"I took the action that I did in order to create a breathing space so that all of us could refresh our commitment to carrying forward the implementation of the Good Friday agreement and the peace process," he said.

But not all politicians in Northern Ireland are pleased by the technical move to buy more time. Bairbre de Brun from Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, says the temporary suspension and quick reinstatement of the assembly represents heavy-handed political interference from outside.

"I find the comments by the secretary of state, John Reid, show, I would say quite an alarming sense of complacency," he said. "A complacency in the face of the damage to the stability and the credibility of the institutions."

Strengthening those very institutions is one of the four areas which needs to be resolved during the next six weeks. Police reforms and the scaling back of the British army presence in the province also need to be addressed in fine detail.

But the most contentious point remains the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

While the IRA said last week that it would be willing to put its entire arsenal beyond use, Protestant politicians countered that was not enough. They want to see all of those weapons handed over promptly and a timetable established for their destruction.

But this latest suspension of the assembly has sparked new fears that the IRA may remove its recent offer and break off contacts with the province's decommissioning body. Official reaction from the IRA is expected in the next few days.