IRABy Christopher Adams in London and John Murray Brown in Dublin

Tony Blair yesterday postponed elections to Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive until the autumn, scrapping this month’s assembly poll because of the IRA’s failure to guarantee an end to paramilitary activity.

The prime minister blamed a “point-blank refusal” by the republican movement, to provide clarity on whether the IRA would cease paramilitary operations.

The postponement dashes any lingering hopes of an immediate resolution to the crisis that has prevented implementation of the five-year-old Good Friday peace agreement and casts uncertainty over the future of a power-sharing government.

Northern Ireland’s Stormont assembly was suspended last autumn because of allegations that the IRA was gathering intelligence from inside the government building.

Mr Ahern clashed with Mr Blair before the announcement yesterday, arguing that it was vital to avoid a vacuum developing as the tense marching season approaches.

The May 29 vote had been delayed once already while London and Dublin attempted to secure an unequivocal public declaration from the IRA of a complete end to its terrorist campaign. But Wednesday’s statement by Gerry Adams, president of SinSinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing, offered only general assurances.