Talks intensify for deal to restore peace process
The Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, meets the
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, for talks today in the
latest round of talks aimed at rescuing the peace process and
the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
As the first anniversary of the collapse of the North's
power-sharing looms next month, there is growing agreement
that twice-cancelled elections to the Belfast Assembly
election must go ahead before the end of the year.
But the election -- which could see Sinn Fein overtake the
rival nationalist SDLP and claim at least the powerful
position of Deputy First Minister in the North's devolved
administration -- is increasingly being used as a bargaining
chip in the negotiations and not a democratic requirement.
Talks are also expected to be held among the pro-agreement
parties in the North following those already held between Sinn
Fein President Gerry Adams and Mr David Trimble at Stormont
Mr Ahern met the British Prime Minister at Mr Blair's country
retreat in England on Saturday. The two premiers met for some
two hours with officials before they held private talks on the
way ahead for the stalled political process.
Mr Ahern indicated yesterday the two heads of government had
agreed on what they would like to achieve and how it could be
"We want to have an election this side of Christmas," Mr Ahern
said. "We want to have the prospect that the election would
give us an executive, a power-sharing executive, and we want
to see that they will implement a programme for government
that will give stability in Northern Ireland and not have the
stop-start crises, mini crises and major crises that we have
continued to have."
However, there were strong suggestions that an election would
only be permitted if it produced the right result for a smooth
return to power-sharing government.
The British Prime Minister, Mr Blair's official spokesman
spoke afterwards of the need for "successful elections". He
said there was "a certain sense of momentum", but detailed
negotiation over a possible deal on "acts of completion" --
meaning fresh concessions by the IRA -- were still to come.
Unionists have insisted that if the assembly is to be restored
and elections are to go ahead in November, the IRA must
Despite the obvious difficulties, it is understood that the
British government will not allow the election to proceed
unless there is a deal involving the IRA and the Ulster
Unionist Party which will win the UUP's renewed support for
On Friday, a meeting of the UUP officer board shelved
disciplinary proceedings against three hardline anti-Agreement
Members of Parliament. The move came as little surprise after
a motion on the matter was not taken to a vote at a meeting of
the party's ruling council earlier this month.
It is understood the 100-strong executive instead discussed
strategy for the upcoming negotiations and for diluting the
two governments' Joint Declaration, a plan to implement
outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement.
A decision could come in the next few weeks if elections are
to be go ahead before the Christmas break.
Mr McGuinness said setting of a date for the poll would create
"a new dynamic" in the process and that it was a "matter
"There is a growing view that British Prime Minister Tony
Blair's position on elections is untenable. If he were to
cancel elections again, like he did in May, it would be
Speaking after a meeting of Sinn Fein leaders in Dublin, Mr
McGuinness said: "I think it is absolutely vital that the
British prime minister listens to what both Sinn Fein and the
Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) have been saying about how
crucially important it is for us to have these Assembly
elections this autumn.
"At the meeting, there was an awful lot of anger and
frustration expressed at the behaviour of the British
government and the slow rate of progress."