ELECTION DATE 'CRUCIAL' FOR ENDGAME TALKS
The setting of a date for elections to the Belfast Assembly is
crucial if Sinn Fein is to make any approach to the IRA
regarding the latest talks in the peace process, party
negotiator Martin McGuinness has said.
After a meeting on Wednesday between the Sinn Fein leadership
and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, the Mid-Ulster MP
said "the atmosphere is good" between the parties.
"From our point of view we see the election as an accelerator
in the process and certainly we will not be going to the IRA
without an election date.
"The election is crucial from our perspective."
A number of issues remain to be worked out for a deal which
could encompass British army demilitarisation, human rights
issues, the integrity of the North's power-sharing
institutions and a significant move by the IRA.
The British government appears increasingly keen to allow the
election to proceed after it twice cancelled the poll earlier
Mr McGuinness repeated his view that there remained a narrow
window of opportunity to resolve the problems in the peace
"The next 10 days are going to be absolutely critical," the
former Education Minister said. "I think we have only until
the end of next week or maybe one or two days beyond that."
Today's meeting was the fifth face-to-face encounter between
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Sinn Fein President
Gerry Adams since efforts to revive the Assembly started again
three weeks ago.
Unionists are holding out for a historic "act of completion"
to bring an end to the IRA as a military force. Nationalists
are seeking the final implementation of the outstanding
elements of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, including the
devolution of powers of policing and justice to the restored
However, talks participants have in the past few days been
casting doubt on the chances of a major, over-arching
NO SHORTCUTS - ADAMS
Gerry Adams has played down the focus on republicans in some
"I think we all will have learned that this is a process, it
is a journey, and there is no way of leap-frogging, or taking
shortcuts. There is a collective responsibility. There isn't
one single party responsibility.
"There are things within that collective responsibility that
all of the parties have to do and we are working our way
through them as best we can with the two governments and with
the Ulster Unionist Party," he said.
Mr Adams said an election was needed to ignite public
confidence and attention, and to restart the entire process
with people with a refreshed mandate.
"We need to have an election, without preconditions, and as a
matter of political principle.
"Obviously we want to have an election which returns the
institutions, and that they are sustained, and working as the
Good Friday Agreement outlined."
He said that the commitments given by the two governments five
years after the agreement to do things that they should have
done long since are themselves conditional and are ongoing.
"Similarly issues like the human rights commission, which
needs fixed, the failure to put proper resources into the
equality commission, the lack of progress on crucial issues
around the Irish language, the old issue of demilitarisation
that needs to be sorted out, the unionist failure thus far for
a date to commit to the transfer of power (for policing and
justice), are all matters that need to be worked through," he
"The unilateral setting of deadlines in a pre-emptive way and
setting the bar too high in focusing on only one element is
the wrong way to go about this."
Meanwhile, there were signs that unionists may be preparing
for an election.
At a meeting of the East Belfast UUP association, David
Trimble, while warning that the current negotiations could
fail, portrayed Ian Paisley's hardline DUP as being incapable
of adjusting to the "endgame" of the peace process.
"Because we are clearly in the endgame the DUP are desperately
hoping that they can exploit the difficulties and pains of the
transition in order to snatch the spoils of our successes," he
"Their problem, however, is that they have never yet been able
to accept responsibility, never yet been able to lead. They
seek a 'renegotiation' (of the agreement) but have never
successfully conducted a negotiation," said Mr Trimble.
He said the DUP had lost its nerve in negotiations. "They say
they want changes but have produced no alternatives, no