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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 17:54 GMT
Prime ministers' meeting 'significant'
Paul Murphy said there was a tight deadline
Paul Murphy said there was a tight deadline
The visit to Northern Ireland later this month by the British and Irish Prime Ministers is hugely significant, the secretary of state has said.

Paul Murphy said the government was working to a tight deadline to restore devolution.

He was speaking on the BBC's Inside Politics programme.

Northern Ireland's devolved institutions were suspended on 14 October 2002 following a row over allegations of IRA activity, including alleged spying within the Northern Ireland Office.

Paul Murphy:
Paul Murphy: "Significant meeting"

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern are to hold talks with the political parties at Hillsborough Castle on 12 February as efforts continue to revive the political process.

Tony Blair's official spokesman said on Thursday both premiers would have a series of meetings but there would not be all-party round table talks.

He said it was simply an opportunity to update local politicans on both governments' current thinking.

'Real business'

The announcement came as Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble branded talks at Stormont on Thursday as a "facade".

All the unionist parties boycotted Thursday's talks in Belfast, citing different reasons for their withdrawal.

Mr Trimble said his party did not attend because of "specific objections" about the way the talks were structured.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble
David Trimble: "Talks are a facade"

"The truth is these talks are a facade. They are intended to give an impression that something is happening while the real business is elsewhere," he said.

Last week, Mr Trimble said Sinn Fein had not been smashed but had been hollowed out.

He said the "IRA juggernaut" had now been halted and challenged the DUP over its claims of renegotiation of the Agreement.

The former first minister said the party was incapable of working constructively and "fluffed it" when it had its chance to negotiate.

He insisted the Ulster Unionists were still involved in the talks process but claimed the Stormont multi-party meetings did not respect constitutional principles.

The "real business" Mr Trimble is believed to be hinting at is the 57-page document Sinn Fein presented to the British Government before Christmas.

'Radical response'

Sinn Fein is seeking so-called acts of completion in areas like demilitarisation, policing and on-the-run prisoners.

Republicans are expecting a response from the government within the next 10 days.

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams: "Expecting a response"

But government sources said a radical response would only be possible if the IRA was prepared to do what was required of it.

The parties at the Stormont talks discussed issues like paramilitarism, policing and demilitarisation.

The Northern Ireland secretary and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen chaired the meeting between Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and the Women's Coalition.

The loyalist Progressive Unionist Party withdrew from the talks, claiming it was being sidelined while the UK Unionists said the meetings had become a farce.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Secretary of State Paul Murphy:
"People in NI expect us as politicians to address the issues and to restore those institutions"

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See also:

24 Jan 03 | N Ireland
24 Jan 03 | N Ireland
22 Jan 03 | N Ireland
21 Jan 03 | N Ireland
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