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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Q and A: Northern Ireland talks
All the main parties in Northern Ireland have been having talks with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish Counterpart Bertie Ahern in London. The BBC's Ireland correspondent David Eades explains the background

How is Northern Ireland being governed at present?

It is back to the old style of government, in that Northern Ireland is run from Westminster, by Westminster-appointed ministers.

The problem is there are fewer ministers now than before devolved powers were given to Northern Ireland - we now have only three Westminster ministers doing all the work.

Why did the devolved government in Belfast break down?

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson suspended those institutions because the IRA had made insufficient progress towards weapons decommissioning - giving up their arms.

That was something the Ulster Unionists insisted on and if the institutions had not been suspended, David Trimble and his other two unionist ministers in the assembly would have resigned in any case.

As far as Sinn Fein is concerned, the blame for the breakdown rests fair and square with the UK Government.

David Trimble angered many unionists by taking the IRA's word - can he now accept anything short of the IRA actually giving up weapons?

You would think David Trimble would be in more of a corner because the agreement was reached on the understanding that there would be decommissioning - and it did not happen?

But what he has said is that he could see a sequence of events that could lead to a return to devolved government before actual decommissioning - as long as he was given certainty that it would follow.

But this time there would have to be a hard and fast guarantee from the IRA.

What have the republicans signed up to on IRA disarmament?

It is very unclear now. What the IRA had committed itself to was decommissioning in the context of what it calls the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. That is a grey area because there are sections of the agreement which will take years to implement.

But those words were taken away again at the suspension of the institutions. Much of the negotiation now is over what sort of language the IRA is prepared to offer in terms of putting guns beyond use.

Even if it does not hand in weapons, is the IRA any closer to declaring that "the war is over"?

Language is everything - and one thing the Ulster Unionists would dearly love to hear is "the war is over". But those words, I believe, are not going to come from the lips of the IRA.

However, what may be achievable is language about weapons being put beyond use, never to be used again.

What are Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern hoping to achieve in these talks?

They are looking for some sense that the main parties are prepared to inch their positions closer together.

Ultimately they want the unionists to recognise that weapons decommissioning is not going to happen in the short term, and that they should step back into government first.

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern want the republicans to recognise that it absolutely must fall into place afterward a return to power sharing government.

We are entering the season when unionists traditionally march through the streets, often through nationalist areas - what strains will that impose?

Many of the most contested marches are no closer to being resolved. I think all the parties to this deal recognise that without some sort of agreement in the next few weeks, they will have to wait until after the summer - after the marching season - to have another go

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See also:

01 May 00 | Northern Ireland
'New ideas for NI process'
29 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Orangemen protest in Belfast
28 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
'IRA weapons rethink needed'
23 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Blair holds key to peace - Sinn Fein
11 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
Angry reaction to suspension
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