WILL PAISLEY SAY YES?
Ian Paisley is facing a critical decision on a package of
proposals by the British and Irish governments which could end
the deadlock in the North's peace process.
The veteran unionist hardliner has admitted he was surprised at
how much progress has been made in negotiations aimed at
restoring power-sharing in Belfast.
"We have made greater progress than I thought we could have made
- I admit that. But that is nothing to lie back on."
Mr Paisley said the IRA had "given us no promises whatsoever"
a British proposal to disarm in front of cameras.
But he added: "If Northern Ireland is going to get a fair deal,
and it has not got a fair deal so far, it`ll get a fair deal
"If we miss the opportunity we'll never get this back again."
He said he planned to give Tony Blair the party's response to
the British-Irish proposals today and wanted him to respond
Mr Paisley was speaking on Tuesday after a party delegation met
British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy.
He said the DUP delegation discussed the future of the British
Army in the North in a "very intense" meeting with Mr Murphy.
Both the DUP and Sinn Fein are also backing the creation of a 1
billion pound peace fund to fund any new adminstration at
Stormont - about one ninth of North's annual subvention from the
The financial package is the least contentious part of a
controversial deal which could transform the North of Ireland.
The deal could rewrite the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, bring an
end to the Provisional IRA, and secure a share of the political
power in the North for Sinn Fein.
However, the rival nationalist SDLP have blasted the current
talks and the goverments' proposals, which they say amounts to a
In a statement, SDLP leader Mark Durkan said it was clear the
DUP was getting a very good deal.
The DUP had been offered "a triple veto", he said.
He said this was "a veto on who nationalist ministers can be; a
veto on any more north-south co-operation; a veto on any target
for achieving devolution of justice".
"The fact is that under these proposals, Martin McGuinness would
not have been minister for education. He would have been vetoed
"Sinn Fein has said that this proposal will not cause them too
much heartache. But the notion that the DUP can veto the
appointment of nationalist ministers will give many a heart
attack," Mr Durkan said.
Sinn Fein have responded by insisting they will not accept a
deal which is not "rooted" in the Good Friday Agreement.
The party said last night that it is looking for a sign that
Paisley's party is prepared to share power with it and that
today "could be an historic day".
Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, said the
British government needed to make it clear to the DUP that it
had to reach a decision soon. He said the DUP should be told of
the consequences of not striking a deal to restore power
"I think we are in the defining, final moments of these
discussions," he observed.
"I certainly get a sense from the Taoiseach and the British
Prime Minister that they are not content to leave this on the
other side of the (Westminster) election.
"Mr Paisley has to hear firmly from both Prime Ministers that it
is make your mind up time now."