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EDITIONS
Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Blair and Ahern call NI crisis talks
Soldiers patrolling a 'peace line' in East Belfast
Tensions have increased in Belfast recently
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern have agreed to convene crisis talks of the pro-Agreement parties within the next few days.

The meeting follows a direct request from Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to Mr Blair on the margins of the British-Irish Council (BIC) meeting in Jersey on Friday.

The move came as Mr Trimble faced calls from hardliners within his own party to exclude Sinn Fein from government following allegations of IRA activity in Colombia and the security break-in at police headquarters in Belfast.

However, a motion to that effect was defeated at a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Party executive on Saturday.

It is understood talks will concentrate on trying to resolve the current difficulties in the process and questions raised about the ambiguities of the present paramilitary ceasefires.


He proposed an urgent meeting of the pro-Agreement parties with the British and Irish Governments to address the current crisis

Government source

A government source said: "Mr Trimble made the request during talks with the prime minister in Jersey this morning.

"He proposed an urgent meeting of the pro-Agreement parties with the British and Irish Governments to address the current crisis. That is being arranged."

Private meeting

A Northern Ireland Office spokesman also confirmed Mr Trimble made the request at his meeting with Mr Blair.

The state of the Northern Ireland peace process and reports about Colombia dominated the council meeting.

Senior politicians from the UK, including Mr Blair and Mr Trimble, gathered in Jersey for the event. Irish premier Bertie Ahern also attended.

NI First Minister David Trimble
David Trimble had talks with Tony Blair
Mr Blair and Mr Ahern went into a private room at the airport to meet ahead of moving on to the summit.

The prime minister also had talks with Mr Trimble who went to the airport to meet him.

A security assessment, shown to the BBC, which said the IRA was involved in developing new weapons in Colombia is thought to have been discussed.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Blair said the peace process was "best guarantor of an end to paramilitary activity".

He said there was "no acceptable level of paramilitary violence".

"That peace process represents the process of transition for certain parties from violence to democracy, but that transition has got to be completed.

"There is not a halfway house for democracy."

Mischievous reports

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, who also attended the summit, criticised the BBC for using "anonymous security sources".

"I am absolutely dismayed that the BBC thinks it is sensible, at a critical time in our peace process, to be running unattributable, mischievous reports from elements within the British military establishment," he said.

The BIC meeting took place against the backdrop of an upsurge of sectarian violence in Belfast over the last few weeks.

A woman suffered shrapnel injuries when a blast bomb device exploded during disturbances in the Short Strand area on Thursday night.

Police fired a number of plastic baton rounds as rival crowds of Catholics and Protestants clashed.

Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness criticised BBC over claims
Bertie Ahern said he talked to Mr Blair about how to eliminate the community tensions.

"Whoever is behind any of the various community violence anywhere, whether it is republican or loyalist, we are determined to try to do all we can to de-escalate that," he said.

The BIC was set up as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

It brings together representatives of the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

The aim is to discuss issues affecting the whole of the British Isles.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kevin Connolly reports
"Obviously all of the participants in the peace process have sharply differing views"
Unionist MP David Burnside
"Mr Trimble has got to reflect the feeling on the ground within Ulster-Unionism"
See also:

14 Jun 02 | N Ireland
14 Jun 02 | N Ireland
13 Jun 02 | N Ireland
30 Nov 01 | UK Politics
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