BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Police searching for stolen British documents raided Sinn Fein properties and arrested four people Friday, fueling demands for the Irish Republican Army-linked party to be expelled from Northern Ireland's administration.
First Minister David Trimble, the Protestant who leads the Catholic-Protestant coalition at the heart of the 1998 peace accord here, said police believe the IRA used an agent to infiltrate British politicians' offices and steal confidential policy documents.
Trimble said if the allegations proved true the British secretary of state, John Reid, should introduce a motion in Northern Ireland's legislature to expel the two Sinn Fein ministers from Trimble's 12-member administration.
Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party is already committed to withdrawing in January from the coalition, forcing its collapse, unless the outlawed IRA ceases all activities. But Trimble suggested a withdrawal might come sooner if Reid didn't offer "decisive action."
"You have a responsibility to act. We expect you to act. You must act," Trimble said in a public appeal to Reid.
Reid said he would take action "irrespective of the political consequences" -- but only after police and prosecutors decide whether the three men and one woman arrested would face criminal charges.
"There should be no rush to judgment. The issues involved are serious," agreed Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen in Dublin.
Arrested mail handler
Friday's key arrest, police said, was of a former employee of Britain's Northern Ireland Office who handled mail and had occasional access to Reid's office before quitting in September 2001.
Police and British government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the employee was suspected of leaking documents and was being trailed by undercover detectives.
Also arrested was Denis Donaldson, the senior administrative worker in Sinn Fein's office in Stormont Parliamentary Building, base for the Northern Ireland legislature and administration.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander who serves as education minister, called the operation "a direct attack on a democratic political party."