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Friday, May 14, 1999 Published at 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK

UK Politics

Hopes rise after marathon NI talks

The prime ministers were locked in talks for most of Friday

Intensive talks on the Northern Ireland peace process have broken up with the UK and Irish Governments hailing "significant progress".

The Search for Peace
More talks among the parties are expected over the weekend as they try to agree on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement - currently stalled over the decommissioning issue.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern were locked in talks for 10 hours - much longer than expected.

Mr Ahern said there had been a "serious and intensive dialogue".

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams: "We came here to rescue the process"
He added: "I think we have made a lot of progress today. We are going to get in touch tomorrow."

After the discussions, which ended with a two-hour round table session involving all the parties and the two leaders, Downing Street also took an optimistic view.

"There has been an intensive discussion, real engagement on the issues and progress has been made," said a UK Government spokesman.

[ image: Mr Adams is warning the peace process is at a critical stage]
Mr Adams is warning the peace process is at a critical stage
Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam issued a progress report on the talks during a surprise live appearance on Irish television's Late Late Show.

She said: "Progress is being made slowly. They spent a wee while in round table, which is a good sign.

"It's not like a light switch, you turn it on and peace suddenly arrives. It takes time."

Northern Ireland First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said he believed that a way of implementing the Good Friday agreement in full could be found.

'Still difficulties to be sorted'

"I hope that will be possible sooner rather than later but I am not in a position to confirm that," he said.

Dennis Murray: "More progress has been made than expected"
But Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams sounded a lone downbeat note, saying problems still remained.

"It has been a long day. It has been a very difficult day. There are still lots of difficulties still to be sorted out," he said.

"We really need to make progress around establishing all aspects of the agreement.

''The problem is that if we perpetuate the vacuum, the rejectionists will seek to fill it in order to wreck the agreement."

Parties tight-lipped

The talks are thought to have centred on the arrangements for the "sequencing" of the establishment of a power-sharing executive and the decommissioning of paramilitary arms.

It is also thought there were talks on a possible compromise over the annual Orange march at Drumcree.

Mr Trimble has been insisting that the IRA must begin the handover of its guns and bombs before Sinn Fein can take their places on the executive - a demand republicans have rejected.

Before the marathon session got under way, Mr Adams warned that the process was at a critical stage.

He said: "We are here at a very, very critical part of this process. It is a matter of trying to rescue the process and that is what we are here to do."

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