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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 October, 2004, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Peace opportunity 'must be grasped'
Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern said the opportunity must not be lost
History will "harshly judge" those who fail to take advantage of the "historic opportunity" to secure peace and stability for Northern Ireland, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has warned.

The Irish prime minister told a gathering of his party, Fianna Fail, that a window of opportunity over the coming weeks must be taken, "otherwise we risk having restoration of the institutions deferred for some considerable time".

Mr Ahern was speaking on Sunday at his party's annual Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown in County Kildare.

He said progress was made both at last month's intensive talks at Leeds Castle in Kent and since then, but people now wanted "outcomes".

Mr Ahern pledged an even-handed approach to the operation of the Agreement.

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"We have been clear and consistent that the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement cannot be renegotiated," he said.

"That is not to suggest that some changes in the operation of the Agreement cannot be accommodated."

He added: "That accommodation cannot and will not be made at the expense of its fundamental principles and protections."

Mr Ahern repeated his call for an end to paramilitarism and said it was "essential" that policing got the support of the whole community.

He added that "in any well-constructed democratic society", support for the police was "naturally expected from all those who hold public office".

The Northern Ireland assembly has been suspended for more than two years.

Stormont
The Stormont assembly has been suspended since October 2002
The political parties and the British and Irish Governments held negotiations at Leeds Castle, Kent, in September in an effort to conclude a deal which would see the restoration of the assembly.

However, the two governments were unable to get the Northern Ireland Assembly parties to sign up to a deal over power-sharing after unionists and nationalists clashed over future devolved institutions. The talks broke up without agreement.

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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