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Thursday, February 26, 1998 Published at 16:48 GMT


Stormont talks re-start amid doubts and fears

The Northern Ireland peace talks have resumed after a series of killings which threatened to destroy the process.

The BBC's Tom Coulter discusses the Stormont talks (Dur: 2'-06")
Politicians on all sides were eager to hear details of Tony Blair's leaked plans for an assembly and a Council of the British Isles.

Arriving at Stormont, political delegates all emphasised the need for speedy progress towards agreement. The spectre of a renewal of the recent violence spurred them on.

Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic Party, said: "We have to make progress and we have to make it quickly."

As the parties returned to the Stormont negotiating rooms, Sinn Fein called for a mini-conference involving its party and the Irish and British governments.

[ image: Martin  McGuinness (right) with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams]
Martin McGuinness (right) with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said: "It would compel all the party leaders to face up to reality, that the two governments are not going to tolerate any foot-dragging and intransigence."

Republicans are expected to challenge the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, over claims that Prime Minister Tony Blair is considering a power-sharing assembly for Ulster.

[ image: David Trimble: backs assembly idea]
David Trimble: backs assembly idea
The assembly would be acceptable to David Trimble's Ulster Unionists and the Irish government has not ruled it out but the idea would not have republican approval.

Republicans want a cross-border arrangement with powers much greater than anything under a proposed Council of the Isles, which would include representatives from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as the British and Irish governments.

Talks back from the brink

[ image: Billy Wright: his murder left the talks in doubt]
Billy Wright: his murder left the talks in doubt
Sectarian killings have overshadowed the countdown to the resumption of talks, which came close to being boycotted by loyalists.

Tension rose in Ulster when Billy Wright, the leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, was murdered inside the Maze prison.

LVF paramilitaries retaliated by carrying out a series of shootings which left three Catholics dead.

The PUP, the political wing of the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force, only voted to continue with the peace process at a meeting on Sunday.

[ image: Mo Mowlam: her prison gamble rescued the peace process]
Mo Mowlam: her prison gamble rescued the peace process
It was concerned that not all parties in the process were being treated equally.

Loyalist inmates at the Maze Prison withdrew support for talks until they had a historic face-to-face meeting with the Northern Ireland Secretary.

Now, only Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party is staying away from the talks.

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