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Wednesday, 20 November, 2002, 22:13 GMT
NI impasse 'could be broken'
Richard Haass (right) said trust must be rebuilt
Richard Haass (right) said trust must be rebuilt
The US special envoy Richard Haass has said he has detected a sense of possibility that the political impasse in Northern Ireland can be broken.

However, Mr Haass also said that if the IRA took the steps that the people of the province were calling for and went out of business, then that must be recognised by unionists.

"If they take their steps and they clearly do take the paramilitaries out of politics. If we do see the complete decommissioning of the IRA, if we see other behaviours that are unlawful stop," Mr Haass said.

"First of all that needs to be recognised by unionists and it needs to be recognised by the people of Northern Ireland across the political spectrum."

Round-table talks

Mr Haass, US President Bush's special adviser on Northern Ireland, also called for more leadership and listening to grass roots.

His comments came after he spent the day in Belfast meeting delegations from the political parties.

He later travelled to Dublin to meet Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen.

On Thursday Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy and Mr Cowen are to host the first session of round-table talks between the parties since the suspension of Northern Ireland devolution on 14 October.

Northern Ireland's political institutions were suspended following a row over allegations of IRA activity including intelligence gathering at Stormont.

Two representatives each from the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the smaller pro-Agreement parties, Alliance, the PUP and Women's Coalition, are to attend the talks.

But the anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party is to stay away.

Ulster Unionist Sir Reg Empey:
Ulster Unionist Sir Reg Empey: "Paramilitary activity must end"

Following the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont, current legislation dictates that the British and Irish Governments must hold a review of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on which devolution was based.

But unless some common ground can be found between the parties on how to proceed, there is no mechanism for reinstating Northern Ireland's government.

Both the British and Irish Governments have stressed that there will be no renegotiation of the Agreement.

The pro-Agreement parties have been outlining their positions to Mr Haass during their meetings on Wednesday and have also met with Paul Murphy and Brian Cowen over the last few weeks.

Trimble away

The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, will not attend the talks because he has an engagement in London which he said he could not break.

In his absence Sir Reg Empey and Michael McGimpsey will put forward the UUP position.

On Wednesday evening Sir Reg said: "Fundamentally we need to know that paramilitary activity is no longer occurring. That's number one.

"Number two is the question of capability to wage war. There's the importation of weapons.

"There's the gathering of intelligence. All of these things - beatings, and expulsion and exiling people - are breaches of the Mitchell principles.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams: "Talks will not have single-item agenda"

"They were all supposed to have ended. They haven't ended. So they will have to end."

But after speaking to Mr Haass earlier on Wednesday, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said there needed to be a realisation that the talks "are not going to be a single item agenda".

Among the issues which are important to Sinn Fein are further possible changes to policing.

Further changes to policing were promised in the Queen's speech last week.

A key demand of republicans is expected to be the inclusion of former republican prisoners on district partnership boards.

The SDLP leader Mark Durkan said confidence was a two-way street. One of his key aims is to ensure the devolution of policing and justice.

"We need to round up all outstanding matters," he told the BBC.

But the DUP's Ian Paisley junior said the talks and the Agreement were doomed.

"The reality is without the DUP, the process is going nowhere. For a deal to stick the DUP has to be there," he said.

Meanwhile, speaking in the Irish Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Ahern said he did not expect a breakthrough in Thursday's talks.

He told Irish MPs he hoped there would be substantial progress before Christmas, adding that the end of February was the latest realistic date for final agreement.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's political editor Mark Devenport:
"Ambassador Haass is looking for give and take on all sides"
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis

Analysis

Background

SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

20 Nov 02 | N Ireland
19 Nov 02 | N Ireland
15 Oct 02 | N Ireland
15 Oct 02 | N Ireland
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