Blair sets deadline
The British Prime Minister Tony Blair has set a deadline for a
resolution of the deadlock in the northern peace process in
September, and warned that he could abandon central elements of
the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Blair set the deadline in a joint declaration with 26-County
Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
He warned that power-sharing under the Agreement could be
discontinued unless a new deal was forthcoming on ending and
disarming the IRA, and winning support for the PSNI police from
The hardening position of the two governments may be driven by
the growth of Sinn Fein in both parts of Ireland. In elections
earlier this month, the party became the third largest in
Ireland, winning seats in the European parliament for the first
However, there was speculation that back-room discussions
involving Sinn Fein and the DUP over the summer could yet lead
to a breakthrough.
Blair said they had set aside several days after the summer for
intensive negotiations with the parties, but if that failed the
search would start for an alternative.
He said a "point of decision" had been reached over the
deadlock, under which the Belfast Assembly at Stormont has been
suspended for almost two years. "For the credibility of the
process, for our own credibility, we need to make sure that
happens," he said.
He suggested that the failure of the talks could lead to the end
"Most people in Northern Ireland realise you can't continue with
an Assembly, people being paid salaries and not doing anything,"
he told a press conference this afternoon.
Mr Blair identified the "four key issues" as ending paramilitary
activity, decommissioning, the institutions and policing. He
said these were well known, but pointedly did not refer to
British demilitarisation, human rights or equality.
There was a "real recognition" among the parties as well as
two governments "that it is time to come to the point of
decision", he said.
"The people of Northern Ireland want that."
Mr Ahern said the two governments would use the summer to
prepare for the negotiations.
"The question is whether we can come to a final understanding on
these issues," he said.
"We can't keep having discussions that do not lead us to
The Ulster Unionist Party's David Trimble said failure to
resolve the issues in September would leave "a huge question of
credibility about the process".
Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin said today's meetings represented
a "missed opportunity" and that the two governments had accepted
a unionist time frame.
He said: "We were here in London to do business today and as we
left, all of us in Sinn Fein looked on today as a missed
"With September now the deadline being set by the governments,
what we were looking for today was for them to convince us that
this is a serious process so we could convince others.
"Unfortunately we did not get any positive answers to that and
we are mindful of the fact that there have been many missed
deadlines in the recent past."