Senior members of Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists have met on Wednesday in an effort to sort out their differences over decommissioning.
This comes following the prime minister's statement to the Commons that he was trying to resolve what he described as an unsatisfactory situation.
The Government insists that elections for the Stormont Assembly will proceed next month, as scheduled.
Do you think a meeting can resolve any of the issues between the two parties? Is the peace process in NI still on track?
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
The comments published reflect the balance of views received:
Once again we hear cries for the IRA to disarm and destroy its weapons for the sake of peace. There is a deafening silence with regard to a reciprocal call for the Unionists to do the same. How can Trimble call for trust from the Republican side when he offers no reason for them to give it? Ever since the passing of the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, the Unionists have consistently shown their hostility to the Republican point of view. The political system was rigged in favour of the Unionists, and they still seek to maintain this immoral dominance. The peace process should be two way, not simply a Unionist triumph for a bigoted few.
John B - H, UK
The people of NI want peace - eventually they will get it if their 'leaders' swallow their pride and follow the will of the people they are representing. This process just shows how our world of greys cannot be dealt with as if it were black and white.
It is not the leaders who have to swallow their pride, as Katherine suggests. The leaders cannot lead while a self-styled army hold a gun to their heads. This is all about "no surrender". It is the IRA who have to swallow their pride and acknowledge that they have no role to play in a democracy. They must do the honourable thing and disband. Not a surrender but a long-overdue victory for all the people of Ireland.
Here we go again with the IRA calling the shots. A small band (the army council) of faceless men who sign nothing yet dictate negotiations and the pace of events.
John Dublin, IRELAND
Violence is not an acceptable way of resolving a conflict. Let's hope that through discussion a way can be found through the current problems.
Paul Rowe, England
Looks like the Ulster Unionists don't want to merely disarm the IRA, they want to humiliate them as well. This is obvious from their annual insightful marches thought Catholic neighbourhoods. They'd better watch out though. Their nasty little game could backfire and result in a resumption of the civil war and the needless deaths of thousands more civilians.
In reply to Mark, USA. You have encapsulated, in a nutshell, why the current decommissioning is flawed. It's a case of 'If you don't tow our line, it back to war'. However, it's not the Unionists calling the shots, but SF/IRA. If the need for weapons is gone, then why the need for the IRA to exist? And by the way, since when has any march ever instilled humiliation in on-lookers? It's more to do with no expressions of Brutishness. Period.
Neill, The Netherlands (Ex-Belfast)
While both sides are willing to talk there is at least a track to take them forward. The destination may not yet be clear but one thing is clear is that only hard facts, hard decisions and hard heads will take NI forward on this track. The hard facts needed by David Trimble are a detailed breakdown of the arms put "beyond use" and how they're "beyond use". What's needed by Gerry Adams is a firm commitment to change, details of the changes and a firm timetable for change. The two thrusts may have to be simultaneous and who better than the President of Switzerland, a country similarly, but peacefully, divided, to arbitrate over the change?
John M, LyneMeads, UK
All paramilitary organisations, republican and loyalist, continue to threaten and 'punish' them for transgressing their, so-called, rules. Since the Good Friday agreement they have been exposed for what they really are...simple thugs who are more concerned with their own power and influence. They will not give this up easily! The presentation may have changed but the message is consistent. The killings haven't stopped, the knee-capping haven't stopped, the punishment beatings haven't stopped but effective reporting across the whole of the UK and Ireland has. It's as though if you don't talk about it then it isn't happening...IT IS! Get back on track? It was never on track in the eyes of the people actually affected.
Terence Summers, England
We all signed up to the Good Friday agreement. We gave permission to let paramilitaries out of prison early. We all hoped it would be over by now. But it isn't. Let's hope Adams and Trimble can prove to us that they aren't just drawing their wages but really want this situation resolved.
Andy, Ex-pat Singapore
This current failure is indeed a disappointment for those on both sides of the divide. However, Mr Blair should have foreseen this problem arising and would be naive to have overlooked this. The wording of General de Chastelain's statement was ambiguous, non-quantitative and non-qualitative. Surely after Mr Blair's problems concerning the wording of the "dodgy Iraq dossier" and its ambiguity, that a further similar blunder should have been fore foreseen and thus avoided??
D Brown, N Ireland
When the people of Ireland last voted, both in the north and in the Republic, they made it clear what direction they wanted their representatives to go. Get on with it. The IRA has demonstrated by their adherence to the cease fire, despite provocations, that they are ready to let the people take charge of their destiny. Mr.Trimble and company are the nervous ones, not Sinn Fein.
B Morrisroe, USA
Yes - elections will put the power back in the hands of the people. That is why Trimble is dithering. He is stalling his own demise. Does he want peace, or is he willing to put his political career ahead of the wishes of the majority i.e. peace. Get on with it Mr Trimble! It doesn't matter whether it is one weapon or one thousand weapons that are decommissioned, if it brings peace to the Island. Finally, I cannot understand why decommissioning of loyalist arms has never been an issue?
BBC news at 23.55 had the following:"Elections in Northern Ireland will be held despite unionist rejection of the IRA's latest act of decommissioning, says Tony Blair." Mr Trimble thought he was in control of when the election would take place, but fair play to Tony he set Mr Trimble straight.
The IRA have shown real intention to put their weapons beyond use so that a political arena can be successfully maintained. It makes me feel very uneasy however that nothing has been made of the Loyalists and their weapons. They have been, by far, more active and destructive over the last 5 years than the IRA. Perhaps pressure should be out on them to put their weapons to bed. Fair play to the main leaders, at least they are realistic and realise that if anything is to work, people must be able to live side by side without fear.
The ball is clearly in the court of Gen. Chastelain and the IRA. Both parties have an obligation to provide clear, documented evidence, written and photographic, of the degree of decommissioning that is alleged to have taken place in order for the peace process to move ahead.
Peter Martin, U.S.A.
Isn't it about time the people of the UK were asked if they want Northern Ireland to remain? I for one never understood why so much time and money was wasted on something that didn't offer the UK as a whole any real benefits, but just cost the lives of people and soldiers who had for better things to do.
John, Australia (ex UK)
The upcoming elections in Northern Ireland will tend to further strengthen those groups favouring a peaceful and democratic solution to "the Troubles". Free and unfettered elections which provide a real alternative to the violence will further erode the power of the paramilitaries whose membership and influence is waning. The elections should go forward by all means.
Ray Doherty, USA
For the sake of all those of us who have been bereaved by events in NI please make it work!
It's one small step forward, so don't lie down yet, keep the momentum going, we want peace and prosperity not about British or Irish sovereignty.
Ross, N Ireland
They won't make any difference at all. As had been said the pandering to the terrorists at every stage is in stark contrast to Blair's words against terrorism in the rest of the world. Either the IRA and the 'Loyalist' gangs need their weapons or they don't. If it's the former then, as was done with al-Qaeda they should be removed from them. If it's the latter then they should give them up instead of the current lies and sophistry we get now. It really is as simple as that.
We all watched with bated breath to see if an agreement could be reached. Seems that we again where led down the path of Unionism that cannot seem to make an agreement and then stick to it. All parties have given up things to reach this point. After the first positive in a long time we now have Trimble saying I want more, just like a spoilt kid. Get over it an act like a leader Trimble and stop pandering to the extreme elements of your party. Trimble should lead follow, or get out of the way. This is typical of the siege mentality of unionism/loyalists. What does Trimble and his cohorts want, peace or more fighting? It's about time that the unionist understand that their days of a loyalist only government is over.
At least momentum in the process has been restored - the difference the elections shall make is effective representation shall be restored and economic regeneration of the north can continue in a climate of relative political certainty and NI governance can concentrate on the day to day issues rather than continually wrestling with itself, preoccupied with the intangible constitutional position. This is what shall hopefully happen - the old green, orange divide shall blur even more into a pro - anti agreement one - still a divide, but a healthier one based on democratic outlook and aspiration....this is all assuming that the UUP can mange to keep itself intact through all of this..
What surprises me is that in the Middle East we pursue the 'war on terror', whilst in NI, which is on our territory, we negotiate as if the terrorist was legitimate. Where's the logic in that? Or is murder and violence different when it is perpetrated against our own population on our own sovereign territory? Life is cheap when it's politically expedient.
Mike H, UK
Hopefully this is a positive move. Not the United Ireland of my dreams, but a fair and just society respectful of both traditions may not be far down the road. The next step is to tackle sectarianism and bigotry head-on wherever it manifests itself. Be it in the home, community, school, or place of work. Meas Mór to all concerned.
Ciarán, Conamara W Ireland
Hopefully the NI elections will not make much difference. Hopefully the elections will strengthen the pro-agreement parties, especially those in the political centre and not the extremists on both sides. That will put the peace process back on track.
Dr Jan Brouwer, The Netherlands
Why has the direction of Irish politics being the 'unity' question? Other islands of the world survive with two or more nation-states living alongside. Republicans need to focus on local issues and not fairytale fantasies!
Gordy, Co Down, UK
The elections will make a great difference if people vote for truly anti-sectarian parties instead of the same old shower. In the Good Friday Agreement we voted for peace and progress, and all the main parties have given us is five and a half years self-interested wrangling. Isn't it time to give those who have never been an obstacle to peace a chance?
Brian, Northern Ireland
Hopefully we can move on over the 'decommissioning hump' as no one in their right mind can believe it is anything but a symbolic move anyway. I fully support any progress as ultimately I do not care if I live in Northern Ireland or a united Ireland as long as I can work, earn money and live my life without the threat that someone will detonate a bomb near me. I also hope this process will see an end to the organised crime of all paramilitary factions.
Dave, N Ireland
The elections would be good if we had an executive that would do something. The whole political structure here in NI is sectarian. All the parties on the day to day bread and butter issues like education, health, transport are identical, the only differences are united Ireland or not.
Are the parties going to scrap plans to introduce water charges, get government to upgrade the sewerage systems, not introduce tuition fees for students, scrap the 11+, not introduce business rates. Upgrade the rail infrastructure and extend it with money/assistance from the EU or adopt the Euro throughout NI?
Garry, N. Ireland
This has to be welcomed. At least Sinn Fein and the I.R.A. are trying to take the gun out of Irish politics. What about Loyalist weapons? They haven't gone away you know.
Alan Loughnane, Ireland
This is a good thing. Do those of you complaining about lack of decommissioning think it's worth going back to what was happening before? It's happening slowly, each side giving a little, then the other. There will always be sticks to beat each other with, because both sides did some bad things - the only way to peace is to accept that and move on.
The IRA is a private army, and private armies are illegal. Why is decommissioning even a part of the bargaining?
Simon Stevens, UK
This is indeed good news!
Gerry Adams has taken a bold step as has the entire Republican movement. We now have to see similar bold moves from Unionism and the Irish and British Government to implement and sustain the Good Friday Agreement! To Cliff in England. putting weapons 'Beyond Use' means exactly that as verified by the International Decommissioning body appointed by the two Governments!
I would also like to ask why some of the contributors are so anti people having their democratic right to vote restored to them and allowing Irish people to determine their own future! After all the empire is dead!
Paul Whean, Ireland
Unfortunately I doubt that the insatiable demands of Unionism will ever be met. The only solution is to do something along the lines of what was done with Hong Kong. The British government should declare that in ten years time they will agree to a united Ireland. That gives the anti-agreement unionists adequate time to either move to their beloved England or participate in a new Ireland.
Derek, Dublin, Ireland
I'm glad to see the elections called. It's what many people here in NI have been waiting for. I don't agree with the person who said that David Trimble has backed down in the face of terrorists. The IRA have had to back down, too. I hope the Assembly lasts this time and becomes a place where all sides can resolve their differences peacefully, without outside influence from any other government or illegal organisation.
It has been 10 years since the IRA called the first "ceasefire" only to bomb Canary Wharf and Manchester shortly afterwards. They then signed up to the "Mitchell Principles" which said that they would decommission all their arms BEFORE a political agreement was signed. Then (without decommissioning) we had the Belfast Agreement which guaranteed decommissioning to be completed by May 2000. We're not complete mugs you know!
This is just a small step in the right direction, and gives a little bit of hope to the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, who just want to get on with their lives in a peaceful and civilised manner. Well done!
Hopefully the proposals announced this afternoon will finally take the decommissioning issue out of NI politics. The serious business of building a consensus-based, power-sharing government can then get underway.
What has changed? I don't understand, the IRA/Sinn Fein haven't done anything. I'm amazed Trimble has given in. This is just another step on the road to a United Ireland and victory for the terrorist murderers. Sinn Fein will no doubt do well in the elections as they are positioning themselves as the party of peace. I don't believe it for a minute, a leopard cannot change its spots and people who were once prepared to murder innocents for the cause of unification won't now meekly sit in consensus pseudo-government with their mortal enemies.
Jon Cooper, UK
It might just convince people that that the Good Friday agreement can actually work. The problem is that the tension of decommissioning won't go away so its about time these two parties started putting actions to words.
Stephen Thompson, England
In response to Kita's comments. The C.I.R.A. and the P.I.R.A are not one and the same. The biggest problem in N.I. politics at the moment is that whenever there is any progress made by either Sinn Fein or the I.R.A someone always finds something else to throw back in their faces. I never have or will condone terrorist violence but the I.R.A is closer than ever to decommissioning but that still won't be good enough because they should make the C.I.R.A decommission also. This is significant progress and should be seen and welcomed as such!
In customary fashion, David Trimble has backed down in the face of Sinn Fein/IRA pressure and returned to his favourite policy position - the u-turn. Time and time again, David Trimble has played the political macho-man flexing his muscles for all to see only to back-pedal at the crunch moment and have Sinn Fein/IRA kick sand in his face.
Ib Balicanta, Philippines/UK
The alternative to violence and terror in Northern Ireland is a proper democratic process, and the elections are a major step forward in that process. Excellent news!
Hopefully peace. Terrorism has no place in NI.
Even if decommissioning happens someone is going to say something out of place and they'll be back at the start again. You really have to ask whether peace is what they want to just an opportunity to score points off each other rather than shooting at each other.
Ian S, UK, Birmingham
Elections will make no difference so long as the government continues to appease the terrorist/criminal groups and giving in to them. Unless these criminal groups clearly and demonstrably give up their arms, and not just say that they are "beyond use" (what does that mean - sold to criminals on the mainland?) there will be no end to violence and the continued threat of terrorist acts.
In response to Cliff in England I would like to point out to him that the government who he says should not appease criminals has been involved in the procurement of arms for loyalist through their agent Brian Nelson. These arms are still out there and are currently being used to attack nationalist and in feuding between Loyalist paramilitaries. I for one would be delighted to hear that these weapons were "beyond use".
I live by the law of the land and pay my taxes too and I am entitled to exercise my right to vote for the party I choose even if you or the government of the day do not like that choice. When the government of the day decides that elections should or should not take place because they do not like the predicted results we have a real problem. These kinds of problems ultimately can lead to the violence seen in this country over the last 800 years. The elections should go ahead and any results should stand.
Jim Andrews, Ireland