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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 15:04 GMT
Leaders hail Anglo-Irish summit
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern
The two leaders agreed to disagree on Sellafield
Measures to combat drug trafficking and the organised crime behind it have topped the agenda at the British-Irish Council talks.

Tony Blair, his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern and representatives from Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands met in Dublin for the talks.

The two leaders hailed the Dublin meeting of the British-Irish Council, set up under the Good Friday Agreement, as an example of how the Northern Ireland peace process was working.

It's good news that the council is up and running because it's a further indication that the process of change is working

Tony Blair
Also on the agenda was Irish health and environmental concerns over the Sellafield nuclear re-processing plant in Cumbria, with both leaders apparently agreeing to disagree over the issue.

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern also issued an appeal to senior members of the Ulster Unionist Party, holding a crucial meeting this weekend, not to impose a fresh deadline for IRA decommissioning.

With a later meeting of the north-south ministerial council between the British and Irish only, it is the first time both institutions have operated since a ban on Sinn Fein ministers attending cross-border meetings was lifted.

The first such meeting was in London in December 1999, but plans for follow-up sessions had to be postponed because the Northern Ireland peace process stalled.

Peace process 'working'

Progress was regained by last month's decision by the IRA to begin decommissioning.

At a news conference after the talks, Mr Blair said: "Obviously it's good news that the council is up and running because it's a further indication that the process of change is working, that the peace process in Northern Ireland is being taken forward, whatever the difficulties.

"As we constantly say, the peace process offers the only sensible and viable solution for the future, not just for people in Northern Ireland, but for all the people of these islands."

He said there were "interesting lessons" for legislation currently going through the UK parliament from Irish experience of tackling organised crime and its proceeds.

Sellafield fears

On Sellafield's proposed new mixed oxide (Mox) plant - to which the Irish are bitterly opposed - Mr Blair said that although he entirely understood Dublin's concerns, the UK would proceed as planned, according to the vigorous safety standards in place.

He expressed hope the two sides could disagree "in a sensible way" on the issue.

Last week Mr Ahern's Fianna Fail party placed a full-page advertisement in the Times, outlining its opposition to the Mox project.

Dublin has already signalled its intention to take legal action against the facility and backed other courtroom moves to get it stopped.

Round The Table
British PM Tony Blair
Irish PM Bertie Ahern
NI Secretary John Reid
Irish Deputy PM Mary Harney
NI First Minister David Trimble
NI Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan
Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell
Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan
Friday's summit in Dublin comes a day before a meeting of the 860-member Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast at which, it is thought, hardliners could try and impose a deadline for the completion of IRA disarmament.

Party leader David Trimble has already warned such a move would give the Republican group an excuse for further delay.

Mr Blair, although saying Mr Trimble would be able to make the point "far better and more persuasively" to his own party, appealed for people to step back from the minutiae of the peace process and see the "big picture" that was still "very, very positive".

Mr Ahern said the British-Irish Council, an improving economy in Northern Ireland and co-operation on issues such as tourism and trade showed the successes of Mr Trimble's policies.

"The alternative, we don't even want to remind ourselves of," he said.

"It would be very hard to see how anybody who believes in progress of any kind would not be supportive (of Mr Trimble)."

The BBC's John Thorne in Dublin
"These talks are symbolic"
See also:

23 Nov 01 | England
Protesters target Sellafield
18 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Back to bread and butter politics
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