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Britain, Sinn Fein Discuss Fallout Over Spying Allegations - 2002-10-10


British Prime Minister Tony Blair says continued joint operations between Northern Ireland's Sinn Fein Party and the Irish Republican Army violate the province's peace process. Mr. Blair met Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams Thursday to discuss the fallout from a scandal over alleged Sinn Fein spying on behalf of the IRA.

It was billed as a showdown meeting between Mr. Blair and Mr. Adams at the prime minister's office in London over allegations that the IRA continues to spy on the British government and military in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Blair told a television interviewer, on the ITV network after the meeting, that Sinn Fein and the IRA cannot continue to operate jointly in violation of a 1998 peace agreement.

"And what that means is that we see all our obligations fulfilled as a British government and on the other side, we make sure that anybody who is in government is committed to exclusively peaceful means and it is inconsistent with that to have a political party and a paramilitary organization operating as one," the prime minister said.

Mr. Blair is now considering suspension of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, the cornerstone of the peace accord to end political violence in the long-troubled province.

Mr. Adams came out of the 90-minute meeting saying it would be a mistake for Mr. Blair to re-impose direct rule from London, and it could fuel more violence.

"This is a political crisis," Mr. Adams noted. "A long vacuum, of course, is grist to the mill of [is very helpful to] the people who want to tear the process down."

The scandal erupted on Friday when police raided Sinn Fein offices and homes of party members around Belfast. Three Sinn Fein members have been charged with possessing documents that could assist terrorist activities. Mr. Adams denies there has been any wrongdoing.

But the leader of Northern Ireland's coalition government, David Trimble, has demanded that Mr. Blair expel Sinn Fein ministers from the executive council. Mr. Trimble says he will resign if Mr. Blair does not act by Tuesday.

Mr. Trimble leads the unionist movement, which is primarily Protestant and wants Northern Ireland to remain a part of Britain. Mr. Adams is a leader of the republican movement, which seeks Northern Ireland's eventual merger with the predominantly Catholic Republic of Ireland.