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Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 21:23 GMT 22:23 UK
Analysis: Talking goes on
 The SDLP's Seamus Mallon and John Hume
Waiting: The SDLP's Seamus Mallon and John Hume
Ireland correspondent Denis Murray reports from Weston Park in Staffordshire on what has been achieved by three days of Northern Ireland talks.

They came, they saw, they went home again.

That was the story of the talks at the palatial Weston Park - the ancestral home of the Earls of Bradford.

The governments continued to insist that there was real engagement, serious work was being done

The first day of the talks was enlivened by the present incumbent arriving to talk to the media pack outside the gates and handing out flyers advertising his pub up the road.

But once inside the gates, a mile away from the hacks, Northern Ireland's politicians failed to engineer a breakthrough in the deadlocked peace process.

The issues are the ones that have bedevilled the process for years, demilitarisation (the reduction of the army's presence in the province), policing reforms and, most of all, the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

Trimble's resignation

These crisis talks were precipitated by the resignation of the Ulster Unionist minister David Trimble as first minister of Northern Ireland's devolved government.

Garry Adams of Sinn Fein
Gerry Adams: Wants "full implementation"
That step triggered a law which says there can be a six week delay before the government must decide between calling a new election to the powersharing assembly or suspending it.

The British and Irish governments would infinitely prefer that the parties' disagreements could be resolved before that date, 11 August.

This would allow Mr Trimble and Seamus Mallon of the Nationalist SDLP to be re-elected as first and deputy first minister by the assembly members.

Talks hopes

Both Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern spoke of their hopes for their talks after they held their own separate meeting beforehand.

They said that they believed the job could be done.

Mr Blair stressed that he wanted it done this week.

The parties at the heart of the deadlock - the Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein and the SDLP - all talked to the excluded reporters at the gates.

It was obvious that not much had changed in the battlelines since the last time they all gathered together.

Slanging matches

There were two reasons for the choice of an isolated and secure talks centre.

Firstly, it took the parties away from possibly violent events at home associated with the loyalist marching season and its most controversial parade at Drumcree.

David Trimble of the UUP
David Trimble: Blames republicans
Secondly, it took the politicians away from the spotlight. And that would hopefully mean there would be no public slanging matches. Oh dear.

On the evening of day two, the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams left the talks to make a speech in London.

It was a speech which hugely offended the Unionists - something they were not backward about coming forward to make clear.

Then, Mr Trimble left on the morning of day three for his own private engagement before then heading back to Northern Ireland for the 12 July parades.

Gerry Adams' tone was clear: Where does David Trimble get off criticising me?

Perhaps this was only a squabble. Certainly Mr Adams said some of the meetings between his party and the Unionists were the best they had ever had.

Tetchy atmosphere

But it all made for what looked like a very tetchy atmosphere.

The governments continued to insist that there was real engagement, that serious work was being done and that there were several threads that go together.

The nationalist SDLP accused Mr Adams and Mr Blair of swanning off but also agreed some progress had been made.

But Mr Blair did not attend his Prime Minister's Question Time. As officials said, he would not stick at it unless he thought it was worth it.

Dark moments

There have been dark moments for the process elsewhere.

The small Progressive Unionist Party, which represents the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) has withdrawn from this phase of the talks.

And the largest loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) has withdrawn its support from the Good Friday Agreement.

Those steps show there is a major resentment in the Protestant community and what it sees as too many concessions being made to nationalists.

The parties convene again on Friday but the problems are still there. The British government is adamant that it will be the last day of talks.

It is impossible to say if this extraordinarily tough nut can be cracked in those few hours that will be available.

If not, the British government is staring down the barrel of an election or suspension.

Assembly back

IRA arms breakthrough


Loyalist ceasefire





See also:

11 Jul 01 | Northern Ireland
PMs hope for NI progress
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