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Wednesday, March 4, 1998 Published at 22:30 GMT


'Progress' made in peace talks

The British Government has said the parties involved in the multi-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland are moving close to a deal.

The Northern Ireland Minister, Paul Murphy, said there was a surprising amount of agreement on many crucial issues.

Speaking at the University College in Galway, he said there was a feeling among the political parties that the time had come to finalise a deal.

The shape of that settlement is gradually emerging. A British Government paper says all parties with the exception of Sinn Fein have accepted a number of detailed proposals for a new, devolved assembly to rule the province.

According to the paper, the parties agreed to six committees to run government departments presently under the Northern Ireland office's direct rule.

The committees would be appointed on the basis of each party's electoral strength. There has also been discussion that an executive or cabinet, made up of committee chairmen, would effectively run cross-border bodies.

Widespread optimism

[ image: de Chastelain:  Reason for hope]
de Chastelain: Reason for hope
Those directly involved in the talks were also hopeful

"I think one of the positive access of this process is that in spite of the murders, in spite of bombings ... in spite of circumstances that would surely have put this whole thing on hold, the parties have stayed at the talks," the co-chairman of the Northern Ireland talks, John de Chastelain, told the BBC.

"The parties are in there, representing their constituents, arguing matters of substance ... I would say progress has been made."

Mr de Chastelain also said he believed the parties could reach agreement before the rapidly approaching May deadline, when proposals will be put to a referendum.

"I think the fact that the time is short is concentrating their minds. If there is a willingness to come up with a solution, and I detect that there is, I think it is possible [to meet the deadline.]"

Tragedy brings solidarity

[ image: Side by side: Mallon and Trimble]
Side by side: Mallon and Trimble
News of progress came on a day when representatives from all parties were mourning the deaths of two young men in the village of Poyntzpass.

Damien Trainor, a Catholic, and Philip Allen, a Protestant, were killed when masked gunmen burst into their local pub and shot them at close range. They had been friends since their school days.

"We all in the political sphere should be inspired by the example of this little village, the way it is integrated and above all by the symbolism of the those two young men from different traditions, forging a friendship, living together and, tragically, dying together," said the Catholic SDLP leader, Seamus Mallon.

The Protestant Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble had a message for the killers.

"I can say that for myself, and I am sure this is true for Seamus too, despite maybe even because of this we are going to try to do our best to bring peace and stability to Northern Ireland," he said.


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