HOPES RISE OF NEW DEAL IN PEACE PROCESS
Despite the Iraqi crisis, talks to resolve the deadlock in the
northern peace process are continuing to intensify ahead of a
fresh Prime Ministerial summit in Belfast early next month
involving Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Despite some remaining stumbling blocks, the possibility that a
deal could be reached on a breakthrough document on the
implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is still seen as
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has said that gaps remained, but
that he was "hopeful that we can get closure before the two prime
ministers return to Hillsborough Castle," he said.
"I think it is one of the positives in this story that the
British Government continues to work with the Taoiseach on this
issue and continues to work with us and undoubtedly with the
other parties despite what is happening in Iraq," Mr Adams said.
"The focus remains there and I have no concerns in that regard,"
Mr Adams added.
Mr Adams was speaking to reporters in Dublin after a meeting with
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the peace process - a meeting which he
described as "good and very focused."
Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness, who also met the
Taoiseach, said there was "considerable hope" that Mr Blair
be able to honour his commitment to implement the Good Friday
Agreement, despite events in Iraq.
"Here we have a British Prime Minister coming back to Ireland in
the course of the next couple of weeks against a backdrop of a
huge international story, the biggest story this far this
century," Mr McGuinness said.
"And I think that there has to be considerable hope within all of
us that he is going to live up to his words, that the Agreement
can be renegotiated and that the Agreement has to be implemented
"I am sure he is not coming back here just for the sake of it in
the middle of these other crises that he is facing on a daily
"Getting the Irish peace process right is a good news story at a
time of great world difficulty and it is certainly our hope in
Sinn Fein that when they come back - the Taoiseach and the
British Prime Minister - that there will be good news for
London has set Easter as a target date for agreement to give
sufficient time for campaigning for the assembly elections, now
rescheduled for May 29.
Contacts between the Sinn Fein leadership and the British and
Irish governments have been continuing in London and Dublin. A
British official said discussions were "delicately balanced".
Policing remains a key issue to any new deal. The British
government is to table two draft amendments to the police
implementation bill going through parliament, including an end to
the bar on former IRA POWs joining district police partnership
boards, which will scrutinise the performance of local police
Sinn Fein Policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly said today that the
new legislation was welcome and "the outworking of three years of
hard work and negotiation by Sinn Fein".
He said this included the Weston Park negotiations outside
Birmingham and the commitment by the British government to amend
the original Policing Act in addition to the progress made in the
Efforts are currently underway to secure a "critical mass" of
nationalists and republicans in the PSNI and the part-time
reserve to encourage support for the new service.
"This work is not yet finished," Kelly warned. "Crucial
such as plastic bullets, representativeness, the future of the
Special Branch, and the transfer of powers on policing and
justice are the focus of continuing deliberations."
Mr Kelly also criticised the SDLP'S Alex Attwood for setting
their sights too low on policing reform.
"Had the SDLP held its nerve and not settled for less than Patten
then perhaps we would have achieved the new beginning to Policing
"Nevertheless, our objective remains a police service which is
civic, democratically accountable and which reflects the goals
set in the Agreement. We have made progress on this over recent
years, and especially in the current negotiations. More needs to
be done and this remains a priority for Sinn Fein in our ongoing
discussions with the two governments."
* Meanwhile, Gerry Adams has said that an arms find in south
Belfast at the weekend should not be a block to political
progress. A rifle and several handguns were uncovered in an
incident which unionists hailed as an indication of continuing
Before his meeting with Mr Ahern, Mr Adams said unionists should
not get into a "tizzy" over the find. "We can't pretend
important, but let's not give too much significance to it."