Assembly evacuated amid political chaos

A notorious unionist killer has forced the suspension of the Belfast Assembly after he passed through security lines to throw a smoking device into the assembly buildings at Stormont.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and DUP leader Ian Paisley were among dozens of politicians who were evacuated from the building when Michael Stone - the loyalist who once opened fire on mourners at an IRA funeral, killing three people - tossed a suspect package into the building.

The former UDA leader, who also appeared to be armed with a pistol, barged his way through the revolving doors of Parliament Building, shouting “no surrender”.

Earlier he somehow succeeded in daubing red paint on one of the pillars outside the main entrance a slogan proclaiming: “Sinn Fein/IRA scum” without raising the attention of security guards.

The buildings are currently evacuated amid a full-scale bomb alert.

26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said in Dublin: “It seems that Michael Stone has gone on the rampage again, in a very dangerous way. But he was stopped.

“It just shows you exactly what we are trying to get away from in Northern Ireland.”

But the Stone incident deflected from even more serious problems for the peace process in the Assembly chamber, where Ian Paisley had earlier refused to allow himself to be designated as his party’s candidate for First Minister. Although the debate continued, the move had effectively collapsed proceedings and the ‘transitional’ Assembly.

“As Sinn Fein is not yet ready to take the decisive step forward on policing, the DUP is not required to commit to any aspect of power sharing in advance of such certainty,” Paisley declared. “Circumstances have not been reached that there can be a nomination or a designation this day.”

Paisley’s refusal came as a surprise to the Dublin and London governments and appears to have dealt a severe blow to efforts to restore local devolved power-sharing to Belfast.

The designation of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, without a swearing-in ceremony or a preliminary agreement to share power, had been considered a formality and represented a considerable easing of the timetable originally envisaged.

Despite today’s failure, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said today that the St Andrews agreement had been reached “in good faith” and was still the “only way forward”.

Significantly, Mr Blair made no reference to today’s deadline for agreement or the alternative ‘Plan B’ partnership arrangements, which the two governments had vowed to proceed with fronm today.

Mr Adams earlier warned that his party could “walk away” if the DUP fails to come up to the mark on designations.

The West Belfast MP said if the DUP did not meet the “minimum requirement” the two government should pull down the shutters on the Assembly.

“At the very, very minimum, at the very least, there has to be the nomination of the First and Deputy First Ministers. At the very least,” he said.

“But if that doesn’t happen, the governments need to move smartly into the partnership arrangements which they signalled up in Scotland.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News