The IRA-allied Sinn Fein party has begun the wrenching process of deciding whether to help govern Northern Ireland, the traditionally pro-British state it has long vowed to eliminate.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and his supporters spent the weekend edging the party's would-be revolutionaries toward accepting sweeping reforms for Northern Ireland as the best next step to a united Ireland.At the party's annual Dublin conference, Adams opened the floor for critics of the peace accord, which was reached April 10 among eight parties, including Sinn Fein.

He postponed any internal vote for two weeks to allow people to vent their frustrations and to minimize the chances of a dangerous split.

The agreement goes before voters in both parts of Ireland on May 22.

Leaders of the main British parties, meanwhile, moved closer today to a unified campaign in favor of the deal, a move likely to encourage a "yes" vote from the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland.

Conservative Party leader William Hague and Paddy Ashdown, leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, indicated they were available to help Prime Minister Tony Blair campaign for passage.

A spokesman for Blair, who was in Gaza on his Middle East tour, said a joint visit to Northern Ireland by the party leaders - and perhaps former Prime Minister John Major - was possible.

If the agreement is approved, it would create a Northern Ireland Assembly in which Protestants and Catholics would take responsibility for departments now run by the British government.

The Assembly's leaders would have to pursue joint policy-making with the Irish Republic, a requirement designed to appeal to the north's substantial Catholic minority. But the very idea of sitting in a Belfast administration is heretical to many Irish Republican Army supporters.

"Voting yes would mean saying yes to going into an assembly, which to me means accepting partition," Martina McIlkenny of Belfast told the conference.

Throwing back Adams' assertion that the plan could be "transitional" to a united Ireland, John Murphy of the Irish Republic said he foresaw "a permanently transitional period, where all we've got is all we're ever going to get."