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UK grabs Ireland govt reins

Hillsborough (Northern Ireland), Oct. 14 (Reuters): Britain seized back the reins of government in Northern Ireland today amid a crisis in the peace process provoked by a spying scandal, but vowed to try and restore home rule early next year.

After halting the province’s power-sharing government with a stroke of his pen, Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary John Reid said he regretted the return of direct rule from London and hoped it would be “a short-lived impasse”.

“I hope the decision... marks a breathing space and a chance in a sense to gather strength and to regather confidence,” Reid said at his Hillsborough Castle residence outside Belfast.

Both the British and Irish governments will now be working frantically behind the scenes to edge Northern Ireland’s politicians towards a compromise that will allow them to restart the stalled process.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern, who have both invested much personal and political capital in the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, said their governments were “saddened” by today’s events.

In a joint statement, they promised to seek a restoration of devolution before Northern Ireland Assembly elections next May, and sent a message to the IRA, against whom allegations of spying precipitated the current crisis.

“It must be clear that the transition from violence to exclusively peaceful and democratic means...is being brought to an unambiguous and definitive conclusion,” they said.

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