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Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Blair and Ahern hold NI crisis talks
Ahern and Blair
Mr Blair is under pressure to crack down on violence
The UK and Irish prime ministers are staging crucial talks with Northern Ireland's pro-Agreement political parties on the peace process.

They are trying to address unionist concerns over ongoing sectarian conflict in Belfast and allegations of continuing IRA activity at home and abroad.

Security is tight around the venue at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, following claims that dissident republicans have compiled a death list of leading unionists.

Mr Trimble, who requested Thursday's talks, has left Mr Blair in no doubt that he wants a tougher stance taken on law and order.

A woman passes a burnt-out van on the lower Newtownards road in Belfast
Paramilitaries are being blamed for recent attacks

Speaking after an hour-long meeting with the two premiers he said: "There is a very, very, serious loss of confidence in the unionist community."

He said it was essential that the government was "active" and not "passive" in dealing with violence and evidence of paramilitary activity.

Mr Trimble said that unless there was action over the next month, there would be a "very serious problem" and called for clearer consequences for those who crossed the "red line".

Unionists want Sinn Fein, as members of the power-sharing executive, to be held to account for any breaches of the IRA ceasefire.

However, Sinn Fein maintains the allegations about the IRA are unproven and that the violence on the streets in recent weeks has been provoked by loyalists not republicans.

Arriving for the talks, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, said political difficulties could be resolved and urged the government not to give in to unionist pressure.

Armed groups

He said the twin aims for everyone were to bond all the pro-Agreement parties together to bring calm to the streets and to ensure that the Agreement and the peace process is stabilised.

"The issue of course of armed groups has to be tackled. How do we do that? We do that by coming together and working together, by setting an example by implementing the Agreement," he said.

NI First Minister David Trimble
David Trimble wants government action
SDLP leader Mark Durkan called on the British and Irish governments to be "less in denial" about paramilitary activity.

He said: "Paramilitaries continue to be active.

"Where there is activity in the dark recesses of this process we have to shine a light into those activities and expose them - not put the lights out."

Both the Sinn Fein and SDLP delegations were heckled by a group of loyalists protesting outside Hillsborough Castle.

Not acceptable

Mr Blair has acknowledged the paramilitary ceasefires are imperfect and said there needs to be clearer evidence of a move away from violence.

He told parliament on Wednesday that a half-way house "where paramilitaries of whatever description believe there is a tolerated level of violence" was not acceptable.

"We must disabuse them of that belief and if that requires action, action there will be," he added.

On Thursday, the prime ministers will have discussions with the smaller pro-agreement parties before holding a series of bilateral talks with the Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party.

They will be followed by round-table talks in a bid to iron out all the difficulties.

However, Mr Blair's official spokesman said he did not expect the meeting "to produce any instant initiatives".

BBC NI's political editor Mark Devenport:
"The Prime Minister acknowledged that the paramilitary ceasefires were imperfect"
Prof Paul Bew of Queen's University:
"This is an attempt to save the Agreement"
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis





See also:

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