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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 21:14 GMT
Talks to revive NI peace process
David Trimble pictured with his team before talks
David Trimble pictured with his team before talks
Talks the British and Irish premiers are holding with the main Northern Ireland pro-agreement parties are continuing to try to break the political stalemate.

The parties have been involved in round-table talks, bilateral talks and one-to-one meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

They are discussing the issues of policing reform, IRA disarmament and demilitarisation which are threatening to destablise the province's powersharing institutions.

The prime ministers met earlier to discuss a draft statement but it has yet to emerge.

The IRA issued a statement on Thursday morning to coincide with the talks, in which it said it would renew its contacts with General John de Chastelain's decommissioning body.

It then issued another statement saying its representative to the body had made telephone contact.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams welcomed the statements and said it was time for Prime Minister Tony Blair and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to "live up to their responsibilities".

The statements came after he and Martin McGuinness briefed the IRA's leadership on the details of the negotiations they have been involved in with the British and Irish governments over the past eight weeks.

Pat Doherty:
Pat Doherty: "The British government must live up its responsibilities"
Speaking after Thursday afternoon's meetings, Sinn Fein vice president Pat Doherty said only further talks would tell if progress could be made.

But he said the agreement Sinn Fein made with the British Government in May last year "was still the basis for moving forward".

At that time the IRA agreed to become involved in a disarmament process as part of an overall political package to restore the suspended powersharing executive and implement all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement including police reform and demilitarisation.

However, Mr Trimble, said the focus of the talks should remain on the need to decommission.

The Northern Ireland first minister said he would not lift his ban on Sinn Fein ministers on the basis of "mere conversations between the IRA and the arms commission".

And he called the IRA statement a "publicity stunt" and an attempt to make a pre-emptive strike.

Ulster Unionist negotiator James Cooper later said there did not appear to be any "real progress" on the issue.

"The IRA are still in the same place they were last May. We have moved forward and we are waiting for them to catch up with us."

The Social Democratic and Labour Party has also held bilateral talks with the two prime ministers.

Intense discussions have been continuing in an attempt to achieve some movement on the issues before the forthcoming local government and General Elections move the focus away from finding agreement.

Ahern said interim deal may be all that be achieved
Ahern said interim deal may be all that be achieved

Last week, Mr Ahern said an interim deal may be all that could be achieved before the parties and Mr Blair turn their attention to the election.

Such a deal could include the IRA re-engaging with the Independent International Decommissioning Commission to discuss arms, movement from the British Government on demilitarisation, and the Ulster Unionists dropping sanctions on Sinn Fein.

Mr Blair is understood to be pushing for a deal which resolves all of the outstanding issues.

Mr Ahern has delayed a trip to Japan for 24 hours.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Fein have been withholding support for the new Police Service of Northern Ireland, which has begun recruiting, hoping for further reforms than those contained in the Police NI Act.

Sinn Fein is also demanding further moves on demilitarisation from the British Government.

Meanwhile, Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley said Mr Blair was acting "illegally" in excluding his party from the talks.

He said under the agreement all parties must be consulted.

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See also:

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