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The BBC's Denis Murray
"This process is fast approaching a crisis"
 real 56k

Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
Blair determined to find NI deal
Tony Blair (left) and Bertie Ahern (right)
Blair and Ahern: Plan to ramp up talks process
The British and Irish prime ministers have said they are determined to find a resolution between the Northern Ireland parties to save devolution.

A day of talks hosted by Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern at Hillsborough Castle ended on Thursday evening with no breakthrough in sight.

All sides now seem to accept that David Trimbles resignation as first minister on Sunday cannot be avoided.

Mr Trimble has said he will resign the post if the IRA has not started to decommission its weapons.

He also said the assembly will collapse within six weeks if the IRA does not start disarming.

Appeal to IRA

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern said that although they had spent the day listening to the "same arguments" that had dogged the process for more than a year, they were not prepared to stop trying to find a resolution.

First minister and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble
David Trimble: "I will not be replaced as first minister"
The bilateral talks focused on the issues of paramilitary arms decommissioning, demilitarisation and policing reform, which have been causing deep divisions.

Mr Blair said next week's talks would initially be chaired by the Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid and Irish foreign minister Brian Cowen.

He and Mr Ahern would then chair more intensive negotiations between the parties "as soon as possible".

The prime minister said May's general and local government election results showed that an overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland still wanted to see "every single aspect of the Good Friday Agreement implemented".

In a direct appeal to the IRA to disarm he said: "It is absolutely essential if we are to have a stable process in Northern Ireland that weapons are put beyond use, that there is a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means."

He added that it was the responsibility of everyone involved in the political process to ensure that all of the paramilitary organisations started to disarm.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the talks process must soon come to a head.

"We can't go on endlessly. There are no new arguments or positions. It is now time to see if we can come to a conclusion," he said.

Stormont threat

If Mr Trimble resigns, there are six weeks during which the assembly can legally keep working with the joint cross-party positions of first and deputy first minister unfilled.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness arrive for talks
Adams and McGuinness: "Sinn Fein will not bear decommissioning burden"
Speaking before he met the two premiers, Mr Trimble said that when head of the Independent International Decommissioning Commission, General John de Chastelain, issues a report on arms at the end of June at the conclusion of his official remit, he expects he will have nothing to say.

The Ulster Unionist leader said he would appoint no substitute to the first minister's post from his party when he resigned.

"If, as I expect, I vacate the office on Sunday there will then be no first minister," he said.

"There will be no deputy first minister and that will be the position up until there is a fresh assembly election."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams emerged from the talks insisting that decommissioning was not solely the responsibility of republicans.

He also warned the British and Irish governments that the suspension of the political institutions in response to Mr Trimble's resignation would be "an absolute folly".

Tough decisions

Deputy first minister Seamus Mallon of the SDLP, who would be forced out of office with Mr Trimble's resignation, called for an immediate "very serious approach" by the two governments.

If Mr Trimble's resigns, as expected, the two governments and the political parties will have six weeks from Sunday to decide what course of action to take.

If no agreement can be found during the six weeks following Mr Trimble's expected resignation, the government could either suspend the assembly or call an assembly election.

But the British and Irish Governments are loath to do either, and hope a settlement can be found by the end of July, rather than letting the impasse run to six weeks.

This is the second time this year that Mr Blair has become directly involved in talks in Northern Ireland aimed at ending the stalemate between the parties.

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See also:

28 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Arms deadline coincides with political crisis
28 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble warns of assembly collapse
27 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Back in the worst job in politics?
23 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Ulster Unionists re-elect Trimble
24 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
IRA urged to move on arms
09 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Political moves on NI's chessboard
09 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
'Progress' in NI peace talks
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