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Tuesday, April 27, 1999 Published at 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK

UK Politics

Blair and Ahern discuss 'difficult' peace

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern: Still trying to move peace process

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken with Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern about ways to advance the "difficult" situation in Northern Ireland.

The Search for Peace
The two leaders spoke on the telephone on Tuesday about the stalled peace process.

After the telephone conversation, Downing Street said Mr Blair still had an "iron determination" to find a way forward despite the process being at a "difficult stage".

The prime minister is also expected to talk to party leaders from the province at Downing Street later this week.

Earlier, Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam insisted the government had no plans to "park" the peace process.

[ image: Mo Mowlam:
Mo Mowlam: "No intention of parking the process"
Her determination was echoed by Northern Ireland Minister Paul Murphy, who said the Hillsborough declaration, which both governments agreed before Easter, would not be discarded.

Dr Mowlam spoke after an opinion poll suggested 73% of people in Northern Ireland supported the Good Friday Agreement.

The BBC's Leo Enright: "One of the most heartbreaking episodes in the history of the troubles"
The Northern Ireland secretary was in Dublin, where she joined Irish Justice Minister John O'Donoghue to sign an agreement aimed at identifying the locations of the graves of IRA victims who disappeared over a period of more than 20 years.

Dr Mowlam said: "I have no intention of parking the process. I think parking would be a mistake.

"I think it would be potentially dangerous. I think it would unravel. I intend to keep talking as long as the party leaders keep talking.

"They have made it abundantly clear that they want to find a way forward. If they continue to talk and not walk - which is what they are doing - however difficult it is we will continue."

[ image:  ]
The continued deadlock follows the refusal by unionists to allow Sinn Fein members to take their seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly's executive until republican paramilitaries begin decommissioning their weapons.

But Sinn Fein say the disarming of paramilitary weapons was never a precondition of sitting in the executive.

Mr Murphy said that although the Hillsborough declaration was unacceptable to some parties, it did not mean it was being jettisoned in its entirety.

He also said it was "certainly worth talking about" SDLP leader John Hume's plan that Sinn Fein could agree to exclude itself from government if the IRA returned to violence.

Speaking at a meeting of members of the European Liaison committee in Belfast, he said: "We are not discarding anything.

"John Hume has had enormous experience in Northern Ireland of many, many years in bringing people together and finding solutions to difficult problems."

Mr Murphy said the current deadlock was "difficult but not impossible".

The agreement signed by Dr Mowlam and Mr O'Donoghue could see the location of the graves of IRA victims being pinpointed within weeks.

The two governments signalled earlier this year they were ready to enact legislation that would lead to the whereabouts of the graves of people abducted and killed by the IRA to be revealed.

The IRA has, in turn, let it be known through their Sinn Fein allies they are prepared to disclose the location of at least seven graves.

The agreement centres on establishing a joint independent commission by the two governments to receive information about the location of graves and facilitate the recovery of the remains of the victims.

Under the terms of proposed new legislation, there will be immunity from prosecution in relation to evidence gathered during the locating of the remains or from any forensic evidence.

But police on both sides of the border will continue to be permitted to use evidence gathered in any other way.

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