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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 13:54 GMT
'Arms photo reasonable': Ahern
Mr Murphy and Mr Ahern will try to find a way forward
Mr Murphy and Mr Ahern will try to find a way forward
British and Irish Government proposals for photographic evidence of IRA decommissioning were reasonable, the Irish premier has said.

The DUP had demanded clarification of Bertie Ahern's position after he suggested earlier in the week that the call for photographs was unworkable.

He was speaking on Wednesday as the British and Irish Governments held talks with the NI parties.

They are aimed at resurrecting a deal on power-sharing.

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The governments want the discussions to focus on the key outstanding issue of IRA decommissioning and "transparency".

An agreement on restoring devolution broke down last week.

On Monday, the DUP had threatened to break off contact with the Irish Government after Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appeared to concede that photographic evidence of disarmament was "unworkable".

However, Mr Paisley said he would meet the Irish foreign minister once the taoiseach clarifies his government's position in the Irish Parliament.

'Fair and reasonable judgment'

Mr Ahern told the Dail on Wednesday he believed the governments' proposals over photographs continued "to represent a fair and reasonable judgment".

He said that, in the context of an overall comprehensive agreement, they should have been "sufficient to close the gap on this most sensitive issue".

"I should make it clear that we always understood that the photographs issue would be a difficult one for the IRA," he said.

"However, in the context of an overall package, it was our understanding that this proposal would be considered by them. They have, of course, since said that they are unable to agree to it."

The taoiseach said humiliation did not play any part in the governments' proposals and "cannot be part of this process".

Secretary of State Paul Murphy and Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern are holding discussions with the parties at Hillsborough in County Down.

They both issued a statement on Wednesday saying they remained fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement and reaffirmed the view that their latest proposals can bring a deal.

However, there is no sign of the deadlock being broken.

Speaking after his meeting, SDLP leader Mark Durkan said there was now an exclusion clause which would see his party out of government if they did not vote for a new executive.

"The basis of inclusion for the DUP and Sinn Fein was good enough for them then, now why isn't it good enough for them to concede and allow to the SDLP and the UUP in the future?"

Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey said "no new ideas" had been put to his party.

Ulster Unionist Sir Reg Empey said: "People need to get their heads around this - this is the potential for an embryonic all-Ireland parliament."

Proposals published jointly by the two governments included a plan for the IRA to allow photographs to be taken of its weapons being put beyond use in the presence of independent witnesses.

The DUP argued that this was necessary to ensure that there was confidence in the act of decommissioning.

But Sinn Fein said the IRA would "not submit to a process of humiliation".

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Earlier on Wednesday, the DUP's Gregory Campbell said there had to be a visual aspect to decommissioning so the public could have confidence in the process.

There had been no confidence in previous decommissioning "stunts" as there had been no transparency in them, he told BBC News on Wednesday.

US Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss is also at Hillsborough holding meetings with the politicians.

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

The DUP and Sinn Fein became the largest unionist and nationalist parties after assembly elections in November 2003.

However, the two parties have not been able to reach a deal which would allow a power-sharing executive to be formed, and Northern Ireland continues to be governed by direct rule from Westminster.




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