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Saturday, 15 April, 2000, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Peace process 'hotting up'

As the British and Irish governments prepare to present a joint paper about the way forward in the stalled Northern Ireland peace process, BBC NI political editor Stephen Grimason assesses the mood.

You can always tell when things are about to hot up in the peace process.

Key figures begin to position themselves for the coming battle and speculation abounds about high level visits from the prime minister and the taoiseach.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has accepted the Good Friday Agreement had not tied down the decommissioning issue, but he said the agreement they got was better than no agreement at all.

And Gerry Adams was quoted in the Irish Times as saying if the IRA returns to violence following the return of devolution, we would be witnessing the beginning of the end of his leadership of the republican movement.

British and Irish officials are still toiling away at a joint position paper from the two governments on the way forward and it is likely the contents will be put to the parties in the middle of the week.

Peter Mandelson: Danger of re-creating cycle of violence
Peter Mandelson: Danger of re-creating cycle of violence

It is understood consideration is being given to a prime ministerial visit by next weekend, but many of the key players here are at best luke-warm about the idea; the political high-wire act has been seen not to deliver on too many occasions.

And of course just because the two governments can see a way forward does not mean the parties will embrace the proposals.

The guns and government issue remains at the heart of the debate and it will be interesting to see if the careful massaging of the scenario, in a series of speeches by key figures, actually delivers a resolution.

The debate on decommissioning appears to have moved on from two questions posed by the deputy leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party Seamus Mallon: Will the IRA decommission and when?

The British and Irish governments now appear to be embarking on a course designed to deliver verbal assurances from the republican movement that violence is a thing of the past.

Gerry Adams: "No going back"
Mr Adams' remarks in the Irish Times seem to argue if the institutions suspended by Secretary of State Peter Mandelson in February are reinstated then there will be no going back for the IRA.

It is another way of dealing with the decommissioning dilemma, but republicans and unionists continue to go after the issue from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Sinn Fein says: "To ensure there is no more violence, put us in government."

Ulster Unionists say: "Ensure there is no more violence and we will put you in government."

Much of what will happen over the next few weeks will be aimed at making those two sentences one.

The two governments will also be trying to build a firewall between a resolution of the problem and the 22 May deadline for the Good Friday Agreement.

Finding a way forward

There will be a serious effort to secure agreement on the reinstatement of the assembly executive by a week or so after Easter.

London and Dublin are acutely aware the closer the negotiations go to 22 May, the more difficult it will be to find a way forward.

They believe they could do without the sense of hiatus attendant to key dates in the political calendar.

The problem is that many of the key figures are already thinking in terms of 22 May and the exhortations to do the deal quickly are ultimately likely to fall on deaf ears.

That, allied to the reality there is little optimism about, suggests there are still long odds on a Northern Ireland government in place in time for the marching season.

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See also:

15 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA must 'face up to' arms issue
14 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble defends Good Friday deal
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Package to break deadlock expected
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Mandela urges NI peace
06 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
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'No NI progress for years'
02 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Mandelson appeals to all NI sides
01 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble needs arms assurances
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