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Tuesday, November 9, 1999 Published at 19:14 GMT

UK: Northern Ireland

IRA statement 'on talks table'

It is believed an IRA statement is on the table

A statement from the IRA is understood to have been placed before politicians trying to negotiate a breakthrough in Northern Ireland's stalled peace process.

The BBC's Denis Murray: "No question of a done deal"
The statement is thought to be one of several documents being discussed by the parties, as the review of the progress of the Good Friday Agreement reaches a critical phase.

It comes after republicans dismissed weekend speculation that the IRA was preparing to disarm.

The parties have been trying to reach agreement over the issues of paramilitary disarmament and the establishment of an assembly executive in the province.

Talks at Castle Buildings in Stormont adjourned on Tuesday evening and will resume on Wednesday.

Stephen Grimason talks to BBC NI's Wendy Austin about a "crucial day in the process"
BBC NI Political Editor Stephen Grimason said it appeared some form of blueprint for progress had been put on the table.

"Any statement from the IRA would be a crucial piece in a bigger jigsaw which could involve words from unionists, loyalists, the head of the decommissioning body, General de Chastelain, and governments," he said.

"The suggestion is that any deal would be a process - a series of incremental steps by both unionists and republicans over a period of several weeks.

[ image: Peter Mandelson: Upbeat assessment of talks]
Peter Mandelson: Upbeat assessment of talks
"If they held their nerve throughout that period, they would be in a position to take an overall deal to their respective grass roots."

He added that it was understood the statement had not satisfied the Ulster Unionists.

The deputy leader of the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said he did not believe a statement would be enough to solve the issue because the unionist community wanted to see weapons being handed over.

But chief negotiator for the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party David Ervine said he believed the IRA had made a statement and that the move showed an engagement many people never believed possible.

He said: "George Mitchell is as we speak trying to close the gap. I believe that that gap is nearly there.

"It would be criminal that if this gaps is as close as it seems to be, if we can't close it."

The Search for Peace
More related to this story
George Mitchell Profile
Link to Sinn Fein
Link to UUP
Link to Decommissioning
Former US senator George Mitchell held separate meetings with all of the pro-agreement parties in Belfast on Tuesday as he continued chairing the review of the workings of the Good Friday Agreement.

Afterwards, senior Ulster Unionist negotiator Michael McGimpsey said the central issue was still unresolved, but asked people to be patient as the negotiations continued "in good faith".

The BBC's David Eades: "The most critical period since the agreement was signed"
He said: "We would like to reassure people that we are committed to achieving progress as soon as possible. What is important is that we end up with something that actually works."

Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said time was "getting very short".

"The issue is becoming more and more urgent. The outcome of all of this for Sinn Fein is that we do get agreement on the setting up of the political institutions and that will be the litmus test of the work that we've been involved in over the last 10 weeks," he said.

[ image: Mitchel McLaughlin: Slim chance of success]
Mitchel McLaughlin: Slim chance of success
Earlier, Mr McLaughlin said there was a deeper understanding between his party and the Ulster Unionists, but described the chances of the review's success as "slim".

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson said he believed an "unbreakable peace" was within the grasp of the politicians.

David Trimble and Gerry Adams are under mounting pressure to find a way to move the agreement forward as Mr Mitchell hopes to draw his ten week-long review to a close.

Ulster Unionists are refusing to sit in an assembly executive with Sinn Fein before the IRA begins to decommission its illegal weaponry.

Republicans say that this is not a pre-condition in the agreement signed by the parties in April 1998.

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