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Sunday, 7 October, 2001, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Mitchell 'confident' about NI process
Stormont assembly
The assembly is to debate two Sinn Fein exclusion motions on Monday
The former Northern Ireland all-party talks chairman George Mitchell has said he is confident the peace process will survive the current deadlock.

The former US senator, who chaired the Northern Ireland talks which led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, was speaking ahead of Monday's assembly debate on the Ulster Unionist and DUP motions to exclude Sinn Fein ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive.

Mr Mitchell told Sky News' Sunday with Adam Boulton programme he remained optimistic that the people of Northern Ireland would ensure the process worked because he believed they didn't "want to go back to conflict".

"Admittedly there are many problems. They are very severe," he said.

"Implementation [of the Agreement] has not gone as well as could have been hoped for, but in the end I think people don't want to go back to conflict.

Former US senator George Mitchell
George Mitchell: "NI people do not want to return to conflict"
"Maybe I'm a hopeless optimist and maybe I'm blinded by my affection for the people of Northern Ireland, but I do believe they are going to somehow work their way through it without a complete collapse of the process."

He said he was optimistic the paramilitary weapons decommissioning issue could be successfully resolved.

The two main unionist parties have tabled their motions to exclude Sinn Fein from government because of the IRA's refusal to disarm.

Mr Trimble has said if his motion fails to gain cross-community support, which is likely, then he and his ministers will leave office.

Mr Mitchell said disarmament remained as difficult an issue for the Northern Ireland parties now, as it was when he chaired the talks which led to the Agreement and the formation of the Stormont powersharing government in 1999.

But he added: "It will have to occur, of that I have no doubt.

"And if there is going to be any progress there has to also be progress on the other issues that remain - police reform, so-called demilitarisation and other aspects.

"We have got to proceed on a broad front."

'Defining moment'

Meanwhile, hardline Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said it was a defining moment for republican movement.

In a statement on Sunday, Mr Donaldson said: "Sinn Fein-IRA must now decide whether they wish to commit themselves to exclusively peaceful means or whether they wish to continue to be wedded to the concept of international terrorism in the changing world in which we now live," he said.

Ulster Unionist Lagan Valley MP
Jeffrey Donaldson: "Defining moment for republicans"

Mr Donaldson also urged the SDLP to give its support to the exclusion motion.

The SDLP has already criticised the moves by both unionist parties.

On Saturday David Ervine of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party said he believed the IRA was going to put its weapons beyond use.

Mr Ervine and his assembly party colleague Billy Hutchinson supported Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble's motion to exclude Sinn Fein.

But Mr Ervine, whose party is linked to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, said on the BBC's Inside Politics programme it was now inevitable that the IRA would deal with the arms issue.

There has been recent press speculation that the IRA may have been considering a gesture on decommissioning.

The organisation said in a statement on 19 September it would intensify its talks with Canadian General John de Chastelain's arms commission.

However, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has warned that the unionist motions to exclude his party will not put pressure on the IRA to disarm.

If the powersharing arrangement collapses in the days after Monday's debate, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid could return Northern Ireland to direct rule from Westminster and start a review of the workings of the Good Friday Agreement.


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IRA arms breakthrough

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Loyalist ceasefire

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See also:

01 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Assembly to debate exclusion motion
23 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble threat to exclude Sinn Fein
24 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Unionists wrangle over SF exclusion
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