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Tuesday, February 23, 1999 Published at 17:38 GMT


Mowlam sticks to deadline

Recent talks by all sides have given Mo Mowlam hope

Despite mounting pessimism, 10 March remains the government's deadline for the transfer of legislative powers from London to Belfast, Mo Mowlam has said.

"That remains our clear and firm target," the Northern Ireland secretary insisted.

The Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein are currently deadlocked over decommissioning and there have been fears in Downing Street, Dublin and Washington that the timetable for change could slip.

Dr Mowlam warned: "This is not going to be resolved by creating winners and losers. Both sides need to give a little if progress is to be made."

Canadian General John de Chastelain, who heads the international body on decommissioning, has held new talks with UK Unionist leader Robert McCartney MP.

But there is little hope of a breakthrough before representatives of all the major parties at the Northern Ireland Assembly leave for Washington to attend President Clinton's White House St Patrick's Day celebrations on 17 March.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, has insisted Sinn Fein cannot be part of a ruling executive in charge of the new administration until the IRA begins a process of disarmament.


[ image: David Trimble: No place for Sinn Fein on the executive without prior decommissioning]
David Trimble: No place for Sinn Fein on the executive without prior decommissioning
But republicans have told Prime Minister Tony Blair and Ireland's Taoiseach Bertie Ahern they cannot deliver even a symbolic gesture at this stage.

Dr Mowlam said face-to-face talks by all sides, including meetings between Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and Mr Trimble, had given her more than hope that the Good Friday Peace Agreement would succeed.

But she wanted to see political progress in the next few weeks.

The Northern Ireland secretary, who made her comments while speaking to sixth formers at Methodist College, Belfast, warned: "If it is not, then the vision that has achieved so much in the past 10 years will be put at risk.

"Another generation could be robbed of the chance of a normal life."



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