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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 18:06 GMT
NI way forward 'within weeks'
Premiers are set to meet again on 3 March
Premiers are set to meet again on 3 March
The British and Irish Governments aim to have a way forward agreed with the Northern Ireland parties within weeks, the prime minister has said.

Tony Blair said he and Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern would be meeting over the next few days to "measure progress".

Mr Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern held talks in a fresh attempt to resolve some of the outstanding issues in Northern Ireland's political process on Wednesday.

Mitchel McLaughlin
There hadn't been the focus or preparation that we feel the situation merited and we certainly didn't get the type of detailed response that we felt we were entitled to

Mitchel McLaughlin
Sinn Fein

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern are aiming to bring an end to paramilitary activity - and fully implement the Good Friday Agreement.

The prime ministers held an hour-long summit before meeting the main political parties for intensive talks as efforts continue to break the deadlocked process.

After the talks, Mr Blair said: "We have tried to agree how we are going to proceed over the next few weeks.

"We have set aside a time on 3 March, by which time - after the discussions we've had - we hope we will be in a position to have a way forward agreed with the parties.

"We are determined to try and make that progress and make it as quickly as possible."

Viewpoints

Mr Ahern said there had been a useful and constructive series of meetings.

"Four months ago, the prime minister set out his speech on acts of completion, which I supported two days later," he said.

David Trimble
The instability in the process over the last four and a half years has been an instability created by the activities of paramilitaries

David Trimble
Ulster Unionist leader

"What we are engaged in is trying to bring full and faithful completion to the Good Friday Agreement - there are many aspects we still have to deal with.

"It is now for us to build on today's discussions. We went over the propositions, we listened to the viewpoints and from tomorrow we will try and work on and see if we can bring these matters to a conclusion."

Secretary of State Paul Murphy said intensive negotiations would begin to see what the IRA must do before the next set of talks between the British and Irish governments take place.

Following his meeting with the premiers, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said paramilitaries needed "to deliver their part of the bargain".

"We do have to get to the final chapter and we do have to be sure that paramilitarism is going to be dealt with," he said.

"The instability in the process over the last four and a half years has been an instability created by the activities of paramilitaries and by doubt and uncertainty as to the future position of paramilitaries."

Deadline

Following their meeting, Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin said he was frustrated that the party had not seen enough detailed response to their concerns or an assurance that the assembly election would go ahead in May.

Mark Durkan
I believe it is still worth the effort - I don't think we need a lot of time in which to deal with these things

Mark Durkan
SDLP leader

"We would hope that the pace of engagement will intensify - it very much would need to," he said.

"There hadn't been the focus or preparation that we feel the situation merited and we certainly didn't get the type of detailed response that we felt we were entitled to."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the meeting had covered "familiar ground".

"I believe it is still worth the effort - I don't think we need a lot of time in which to deal with these things, but we do need a lot more effort," he said.

'Unrealisable'

Alliance leader David Ford said the prime ministers had been in listening mode.

Mr Blair also announced a 3m initiative to help develop political dialogue in both communities in Northern Ireland.

Referring to the loyalist feud, he said it was important that loyalism finds "a proper and true political voice" and that he hoped the government would be able to help.

"Loyalism does also face a choice - a choice between trying to pursue a political path or a descent into gangsterism and criminality that does nothing at all for the reputation of anyone," he said.

Earlier, Cedric Wilson of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party handed in a letter of protest at Hillsborough Castle.

He said: "It is hypocritical of the prime minister to declare war on global terrorism, yet sit down in an attempt once again to put back into the very heart of government in Northern Ireland those inextricably linked to the IRA".

Last October, Mr Blair issued a challenge to republicans by calling on them to make a move.

He called for acts of completion, which the IRA said were unrealisable.

Republicans have called for major moves from the British Government, including demilitarisation, further moves on policing and reforms on human rights and equality issues.

Unionist move

In return, the government and unionists want IRA units to stand down, a declaration the war is over and public acts of decommissioning.

Assuming a deal can be reached between republicans and the government, the Ulster Unionist Party would still have to be persuaded to return to a power-sharing administration at Stormont.

With assembly elections due in May, the two governments have set a deadline of mid-March to achieve a deal.

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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Prime Minister Tony Blair
"There is confidence that in the end we can make progress"
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern
"We look forward to playing our constructive part in trying to find a resolution"
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis

Analysis

Background

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See also:

09 Feb 03 | N Ireland
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