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Monday, January 12, 1998 Published at 11:17 GMT


Ulster talks aim for speedy progress
image: [ Blair phoned Irish leaders from Japan, where he is on an official trip with his wife Cherie ]
Blair phoned Irish leaders from Japan, where he is on an official trip with his wife Cherie

Multi-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland have resumed at Stormont, near Belfast, with speculation that new proposals for a settlement are about to be tabled.

There is a renewed sense of urgency following the violence of recent weeks, with politicians on all sides emphasising the need for speedy progress towards agreement.

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, interrupted a visit to Japan to telephone participants in the peace process to try to ensure the meeting produces a breakthrough.

Mr Blair spoke to the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble and the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam.

[ image: Mo Mowlam arrives for the Stormont talks]
Mo Mowlam arrives for the Stormont talks
The reason for the flurry of calls is clearly that the Prime Minister believes he and the leading players may be close to agreeing draft proposals which could be put before the talks process.

This would take the form of draft heads of agreement - an outline of how relations could work between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, between Northern Ireland and the Republic and via a devolved Northern Ireland assembly.

Speaking outside Stormont, the Political Development Minister for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, said that there should be a devolved administration in Northern Ireland.

"If there is going to be devolution in Britain there is an awful lot of sense in having devolution in Northern Ireland," he said.

Mr Murphy said he believed that all parties understood the importance of making progress between now and May.

"We are going to have to ensure that the way ahead is very concentrated. I think there is a determination on the part of all the participants for there to be rapid progress in the talks," he said.

Mr Blair's personal intervention from Japan follows a number of sectarian attacks which have been threatening the peace process.

Mr Blair's call to Mr Adams was made just hours after the Sinn Fein leader was told of the murder of Terry "Junior" Enright, 28, who was married to Mr Adams' niece.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman confirmed that the shooting had been raised during the conversation with Mr Adams. But he would not say what had been said or whether Mr Blair expressed condolences.

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