FIVE DAYS LEFT FOR DEAL - AHERN
Talks are continuing in Belfast and Brussels after the Irish
Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, declared Wednesday as the
effective deadline for the announcement of a deal to end the
stalemate over the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
With Mr Ahern and British Prime Minister engaged in a series
of discussions over the weekend at a European conference in
Brussels, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is continuing his
discussions with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.
Few details of the negotiations have yet emerged, however, but
hopes are still high of a historic breakthrough.
In their Joint Declaration last April, the governments called
for a "full and permanent" cessation of all paramilitary
activity and an "historic act of completion" that would put
all paramilitary weapons beyond use.
The UUP is demanding a historic move by the IRA in exchange
for their support of the Good Friday Agreement and the
power-sharing institutions in the North of Ireland, now
suspended for over a year.
Three hardline Ulster Unionist MPs have recently insisted that
the IRA must disarm completely and disband. They have also
resolutely rejected the Joint Declaration amid a new dispute
over their position in the party and party policy.
Following a bitter exchange of statements between the three
and the UUP leadership, Mr Adams declined to comment on that
party's internal difficulties.
"They have a leadership and we will deal with them. That is
the reality of it," he said. "The people we are working with
we think have the will to try and sort these issues out."
Mr Adams said they were working on the basis that elections to
the Belfast Assembly were going to go ahead, deal or no deal.
However, he said it was better to go into elections with an
He cautioned rejectionist unionists within the DUP
and UUP and said that "for unionists this is as good as it
"The Good Friday Agreement was a considerable compromise.
Those who stayed outside the room and didn't negotiate can
hardly complain about it."
He said "rejectionist unionists need to catch up with the
people," adding that "the popular will is for this to work".
Optimism has continued in the media despite the failure this
week to meet a deadline for an election on 13 November, which
had been the preferred date.
The appearance of election posters for Mr Adams in west
Belfast confirms the conviction that, whatever about a
breakthrough in the round of talks, there will be Assembly
Many republicans, however, remember a painful and humiliating
experience earlier this year, when similar negotiations
collapsed in chaos. Intensive efforts to reach a compromise on
a form of words between the IRA and the Ulster Unionist
leadership fell apart amid increasingly outrageous demands for
statements by the IRA and Gerry Adams.
Despite the assiduously upbeat tone of recent comments, fears
of another spectacular collapse -- possibly delaying any
possible election until 2004 -- have not been allayed.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was unconvincing when he
said earlier in the week that the "omens" were "good"
fact that unionists and republicans were "still talking"
through the issues was itself "a tremendous achievement".
He said in parliament on Wednesday that the elections should
go ahead -- but again refused to name a date.
Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, remains more
cautious. Speaking in Brussels yesterday, he publicly urged
the British government to announce next week that elections
will take place before the end of November, even in the
absence of any agreement between the Ulster Unionist Party and
The Taoiseach, warned, however, that failure to find agreement
by next Wednesday would place the pro-Agreement parties in an
difficult position entering an election campaign. and would
lead to "an enormous period of uncertainty".
"I do not think that would do the process any good," he said.
"I just think on the balance of it, it's very hard to tell
people that you're heading for the sixth year since an
election on what was a five-year mandate," he said.
He said that the two sides had just five days to agree, since
both he and Mr Blair agreed that the end of November was the
latest possible date for an election this year.
"When Tony Blair and I go home tomorrow, we're going to keep
at it for the weekend. We've made up our minds to do that
because it's our last weekend and we've only a few days left.
Both of us feel that if we can't get it right by our Question
Times on Wednesday, we're goosed," he said.
Sinn Fein chief negotiator Mr Martin McGuinness said he agreed
with Ahern's assessment.
Mr McGuinness said Sinn Fein had been pressing hard for
movement from the British government on the transfer of
policing and justice powers from London to Belfast and the
introduction of equality and human rights commitments in the
Good Friday Agreement.
"Time is pressing", he said, adding that all communities
needed to hold their nerve over the coming days.