PARTIES SET FOR TALKS SHOWDOWN
26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony
Blair have announced that a new round of talks with the political
parties will begin on February 6, to establish if progress is
possible on the implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
However, further intransigent statements by DUP leader Ian
Paisley this week cast a shadow over yesterday's summit, which
the two premiers had hoped would inject momentum into the stalled
The DUP continues to refuse to hold direct talks with Sinn Fein,
despite the unilateral initiative by the Provisional IRA last
July to disarm and cease activity.
The DUP has also insisted that inclusive power-sharing, including
Sinn Fein, is "out of the question". The party has said it will
only share power with fellow unionists ajnd the moderate
Sinn Fein has said watered-down political institutions, stripped
of a cabinet-style executive, are unacceptable.
An official IMC report is expected next week to largely confirm
that the Provisional IRA has ended its armed struggle. However,
the DUP is sure to seize on any conditionality in the report as
justification for its position. The report is also expected to
include police briefings on other republican organisations and
unionist paramilitary activity.
The premiers said it would be a "very decisive year" for the
north, a statement greeted with open cynicism by members of the
media attending the event.
Mr Ahern insisted next month's intensive talks would create a
"This is not a time for sitting back or complacency. We cannot
afford a prolonged stalemate," he said.
"...We're not saying it's going to be easy. Everybody needs to
take risks and everybody needs to take responsibility."
He also said he hoped the IMC would deliver a positive report on
IRA activity next week. The political institutions must be
restored, added Mr Ahern, to deliver the people's wishes.
"The comfort zone in which everybody can sit on their hands and
just drift on, will be a mistake, because it won't work that
Mr Blair said it was eight years since the Good Friday Agreement
"I think we have learned throughout that a state of paralysis or
stalemate is not a good place to be, however benign or placid
things appear to be.
"Whilst that stalemate continues actually under the surface there
are all those currents of instability present when there is not a
true forceful direction moving the process forward."
Earlier this week, Ian Paisley give his party's proposals to Mr
Blair at Downing Street.
He was at No 10 to present his party's 16-page 'Facing Reality'
document, which is understood to propose that the appointment of
Ministers be deferred until the DUP is satisfied with Sinn Fein's
The DUP leader said he would give Mr Blair time to reflect on his
party's blueprint before publishing it in about 10 days.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist Party has suggested the Belfast
Assembly act in an advisory role to British Direct Rule
officials, whole the SDLP has called for commissioners to be
appointed to run departments in the absence of elected
Sinn Fein has blasted the unionist proposals as "an attempt to
turn the clock back" and the SDLP's plan as "foolish".
Party president Gerry Adams said it was crucial that both
governments make it clear that the object of Mr Blair and Mr
Ahern's discussions was to get the speedy restoration of fully
"What is required is a genuine effort to make progress in the
months ahead," he said. "That means an end to the illegal
suspension of the institutions imposed by the British government
in October 2002. It means the triggering of the d'Hondt
mechanism, for electing the executive. It means agreement by the
DUP to take up their seats in an executive along with other
"It also means substantive progress on outstanding aspects of the
agreement including demilitarisation, equality and human rights
"It requires the conclusion of the debate on policing, Northern
representation to be brought forward in the Oireachtas and the
delivery of a peace dividend for the north and Border counties.
"The two governments, and in particular the British government,
have a responsibility to make it clear that the DUP's approach
will not be allowed to stall progress further."