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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Blair to consider NI peace measures
Ahern and Blair
The PMs are under pressure to crack down on violence
Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to consider measures to bolster unionist confidence in the political process in Northern Ireland.

Mr Blair was speaking after a round of meetings with the pro-Agreement parties and Irish premier Bertie Ahern at Hillsborough Castle, County Down, on Thursday.

First Minister David Trimble requested the talks amid concerns over ongoing sectarian conflict in Belfast and allegations of continuing IRA activity at home and abroad.

Unionists say it is eroding support for the Good Friday Agreement among their supporters.

NI First Minister David Trimble
David Trimble wants government action

"There is a very, very, serious loss of confidence in the unionist community," said Mr Trimble after an hour-long meeting with Mr Blair and Mr Ahern.

He said there had to be clearer consequences for paramilitaries who crossed the "red line", or there would be a "very serious problem indeed".

Mr Blair said it was important to recognise the peace process was a transition but the process must be kept moving.

"Transition means transition - full transition from violence to democracy," he said.

"We've got to look at the ways we make that clear, that we lay down principles for people to abide by and what happens of they don't abide by them.

"In the short term what we have to do is deal with this issue of street violence."

The prime minister said all of the parties he had spoken to agreed to do everything they could to resolve the situation.

And he insisted Sinn Fein was serious about making the peace process work.

'Huge effort'

Bertie Ahern described Thursday's talks session as "good".

"Today we focused not only on the problems but the difficulties in the interface areas.

A woman passes a burnt-out van on the lower Newtownards road in Belfast
Paramilitaries are being blamed for recent attacks
"I think there was a huge effort by everybody to work with each other to try and de-escalate the tensions and difficulties in the short term and the long term in these communities that are suffering so much.

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.

Party leader Gerry Adams insisted sanctions could not be taken against Sinn Fein under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Let's be sensible about all of this. Yes there are difficulties - yes there are problems. Can they be resolved? Yes. Will it be easy? No.

The leader of the nationalist SDLP, Mark Durkan, criticised David Trimble's tactics, saying the difficulties in the peace process would not be resolved by deadlines.

"We will deal with these difficulties if we connect honestly with the problems that are there, if we are honest about the levels of violence and the nature of the paramilitaries' involvement in that violence."

After the meeting, David Trimble briefed members of his Ulster Unionist Party at a nearby hotel.

Speaking afterwards, MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his party leader had still not ruled out resigning as first minister if action was not taken against Sinn Fein.

The prime minister said he would put forward proposals to the parties before parliament goes into recess on 24 July.

BBC NI's Mark Simpson:
"What the prime minister intends to do next will be announced at Westminster within 20 days"
BBC NI's Martina Purdy:
"Unionism is unsettled and the prime minister is once again attempting to rescue the process"
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
04 Jul 02 | N Ireland
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