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Last Updated: Monday, 20 September, 2004, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
DUP 'will listen to ideas'
Stormont
Talks to resolve sticking points are to continue at Stormont
The DUP remains "optimistic" as efforts continue to restore devolution in Northern Ireland, the party's deputy leader has said.

Peter Robinson was speaking after the parties failed to reach agreement during three days of negotiations at Leeds Castle in Kent.

The talks were seen as the most important since the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and aimed to resolve issues surrounding the deadlock over the IRA's continued existence and power-sharing at Stormont.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said afterwards that he believed the issue of ending paramilitary activity and putting weapons beyond use could be resolved.

However, one of the main sticking points to emerge from the talks was how the DUP and Sinn Fein would work together in a power-sharing government.

The DUP wants ministers in a future Executive to be subject to greater controls by assembly members - Sinn Fein fears the unionist majority at Stormont might use such powers to block any important decisions their ministers take.

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Further talks will be held at Stormont on Tuesday aimed at resolving these matters, and Mr Robinson said he was "on the optimistic side of this equation".

He told a news conference on Monday: "The DUP does not have any emotional capital tied up in any particular mechanism."

Mr Robinson said while his party thought their way was the best way, they would listen to ideas from other parties.

He stressed the DUP was not looking for a return to majority rule, and said he was "pained" by some reports that party leader Ian Paisley had stood in the way of a deal at Leeds Castle.

As Mr Robinson was clarifying his party's position, other political leaders were briefing party members about the talks.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said once issues surrounding paramilitarism were resolved, "second-order" matters such as assembly structures could be as well.

"If the paramilitary issues are resolved, I don't believe that even the most die-hard member of the DUP can stand out against the popular demand to see progress," he added.

Earlier on Monday, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy gave an upbeat assessment of the talks, saying that the political parties genuinely wanted to reach an agreement.

"What I want to emphasise is that the talks at the weekend did not fail," he said.

"We didn't complete them and we need to finalise them, but we went a long way."

Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley

Sinn Fein sources said huge gaps still remained.

While there is agreement in principle on the issues of devolution of policing and justice, no time frame or structures have been agreed.

Mr Blair wants these gaps to be closed within weeks.

On Saturday, the British and Irish governments put forward proposals at Leeds Castle which they regarded as an "acceptable compromise" to the DUP's demands for changes to the Good Friday Agreement.

It was understood progress had been made on a form of words which would see an end to IRA activity and the completion of decommissioning by Christmas, but the parties had not actually seen a text.

On Monday, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said it should be known soon whether the outstanding issues from the Leeds Castle talks were "technical issues" that could be sorted out easily, or issues to do with majority rule that would be more difficult to resolve.

The political institutions in Northern Ireland were suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the Northern Ireland Office.


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