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Tuesday, January 13, 1998 Published at 09:24 GMT


Anglo-Irish peace blueprint scrutinized
image: [ Ireland's Foreign Minister David Andrews (left):
Ireland's Foreign Minister David Andrews (left): "This is a very good day -- we have produced a road map to a new agreement."

The peace process in Northern Ireland is moving up a gear as negotiations get underway on a set of proposals which it is hoped will consign three decades of violence to history.

Blair: "From symbolism to substance" (1'19'')
The document includes plans for constitutional change for both Britain and Ireland, a new Anglo-Irish agreement and a Northern Ireland assembly.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam said the proposals were an attempt to move the talks forward.

"It's an important phase for our participants to move on," she said. "But it's up to the participants to have the space and the time to debate and negotiate.

"What's different is that the proposals are an attempt to put down what the two governments best judgement is as to the way forward. It's not dictation -- it's still open to discussion and amendment."

It was given official blessing during a series of long-distance phone calls between the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, during his visit to Tokyo, and the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern.

Mowlam: "An attempt to give talks a kick-start" (5'56'')
The proposals were given a cautious welcome by the Ulster Unionists while other parties were less approving.

In particular, a spokesman for the republican party Sinn Fein said it would be making no "knee-jerk reaction" to the plans but privately the republicans are said to be unhappy at proposals which they see as edging towards unionist demands.

[ image: The parties studied the document for most of the afternoon]
The parties studied the document for most of the afternoon
The two-page document effectively forms the first real agenda in the talks and means the parties are now focused on the core issues at stake for the first time.

Under the power-sharing plans, a Northern Ireland Assembly, elected by proportional representation, would be given devolved executive and legislative responsibility.

New assemblies

A new British-Irish agreement would replace the existing Anglo-Irish agreement and would include an inter-governmental council with representatives from Northern Ireland and the new assemblies being established in Scotland and Wales.

And it suggests the creation of a north-south ministerial council, which would be accountable to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dublin government.

The proposals also call for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and for measures to tackle contentious issues such as security, policing and the decommissioning of terrorist weapons.

London and Dublin have made it clear that these are not proposals set in stone. They say the document represents what they call their best guess at a generally acceptable outcome.

It will now be considered by the parties who attended the resumption of multi-party talks at Stormont.

The document argues for the establishment of new political bodies which the two governments believe will meet the fears and concerns of both communities in the province.


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