Deal may end Ulster peace talks deadlock
AGREEMENT to break the deadlock in Northern Ireland’s peace process could be within reach, despite threats from dissident republican terrorists, it was claimed last night.
As Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and the Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, prepared to meet in Belfast today for crucial talks with the political parties, the SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, insisted all sides were close to an historic deal to end the political stalemate.
He said: "Confidence is growing that a resolution of current difficulties may be within reach."
Efforts to restore the devolved institutions have been intensified following a Continuity IRA bomb attack in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. Six police officers were slightly injured when the device, containing up to 15lb of commercial explosives, exploded in the town where the Provisional IRA murdered 11 people in its 1987 Poppy Day massacre.
As detectives last night questioned a man arrested after Monday night’s blast, the terror organisation warned of more bombings aimed at wrecking the Good Friday Agreement.
Sources close to Continuity IRA said: "The British had better be prepared. There will always be people prepared to take up arms against their rule here.
"This was to let the Brits know they are still there and prepared to fight."
Mr Blair and Mr Ahern were expected to press the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, for a major IRA move on weapons that will get the suspended power-sharing government at Stormont up and running again. David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists have demanded the Provisionals empty their secret arms dumps before agreeing to return to the devolved administration which collapsed amid claims of an IRA spy plot last October.
But Sinn Fein has called on Downing Street to move first on its demands for new legislation to strengthen policing reforms and a further reduction in Army watchtowers in republican areas of Northern Ireland.
Even if the IRA disarms, a senior Ulster Unionist claimed it would not be enough to restore the power-sharing arrangements.
Tough sanctions will also have to be introduced against paramilitary organisations which fail to keep the peace, Lord Kilclooney, the party’s former deputy leader, claimed.
He said: "Anyone who believes that further decommissioning by the IRA will bring about a restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland is ill advised."
The UUP peer argued that even if all Provisional weapons were destroyed, more illegal guns could be shipped in.
"To win the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland, which has now been lost, and to regain support for the agreement, which has declined, it is necessary to have not only decommissioning but real sanctions if those who decommission break the peace."
Mr Adams also played down the chances of major progress between now and next month. It was up to the British government to make things work in the short term, he insisted; his party was doing its best.
But Mr Durkan claimed the political process could be salvaged if the agreement was fully implemented.
Along with a call for all sides to back the new police service, he demanded radical progress on reforming the criminal justice system and an end to all loyalist and republican paramilitary violence.
And in a direct message to Mr Adams and Mr Trimble, he added: "I am particularly challenging the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein, who between them got us all into this mess and have so far failed abysmally to get us out of it."
The Northern Ireland security minister, Jane Kennedy, last night described those who planted the bomb in Enniskillen as the "enemy of the entire community".
Mrs Kennedy was briefed by the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, about the bombing and the wider threat from dissident republicans.
She said: "Those who are the authentic voice of the great majority of people who want peace, stability and reconciliation for future generations will not be deflected by a minority stuck in a violent and sterile past. They offer nothing but misery and suffering and they will not be allowed to succeed."
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