Northern Ireland's leading Protestant politician, David Trimble, says the troubled province's government will soon collapse if the Irish Republican Army does not begin disarming.
David Trimble says Northern Ireland's festering political crisis is about to come to what he calls "a defining moment."
Mr. Trimble is upset because the Irish Republican Army keeps failing to act on its promise to disarm under terms of a 1998 peace agreement.
So Mr. Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party is demanding the expulsion of the IRA's political wing, the Sinn Fein, from the administration of Northern Ireland's government.
Mr. Trimble says the measure will come to a vote within days in the provincial assembly, where the pro-British and predominately Protestant unionists share power with Catholic-led parties that want to see the British province merged into the Irish republic.
If the assembly, as expected, decides not to expel Sinn Fein, Mr. Trimble says his party will resign and bring down the coalition government.
Mr. Trimble says pressure has never been stronger on the IRA to begin disarmament than now, in the aftermath of this month's terrorist attacks in the United States. "When you think about the context of the moment, after the atrocities in New York, and the pressure that's coming consequently on republicans, that one has to say that if they don't do it now, then there's no reason to believe they ever will do it," he said.
Mr. Trimble went on to accuse the IRA and Sinn Fein of involvement in smuggling and other underworld activities. "We've got the Mafia-style activities, rackets, the drugs racket, the fuel rackets, the cigarettes rackets, all the others," said David Trimble. "And at the end of the day, I think the Mafia-style activities matter more to this organization than politics do."
Sinn Fein has reacted angrily to the Trimble demands, saying pressure on the IRA to disarm will backfire.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams accuses the unionists of what he calls "hypocrisy and cynicism" by linking the fate of the government to progress on disarmament.
The political crisis is playing out against a backdrop of ongoing violence between Catholics and Protestants.
In the latest incident, two policemen were wounded late Wednesday as they tried to stop a rampage by 300 Protestants in a Catholic neighborhood in North Belfast.
Police say it has been 20 years since Belfast has seen as many shootings and explosions as it has experienced over the past three months.