Category: Archive

Blair makes push to end political impasse

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — The British prime minister, Tony Blair, flew to Northern Ireland on Tuesday to kick-start two weeks of intensive talks designed to break the political stalemate over decommissioning as the June 30 deadline for resolution rolls closer.

Although Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists appear just as far apart on the thorny arms issue, the prime minister has designated that day for the devolution of political power to Belfast and has made no mention of an alternative plan should the deadline collapse without results.

Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam has insisted she would announce the establishment of the proposed power-sharing Executive later this week, but informed unionist sources said that move would be delayed as a conciliatory gesture toward the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble.

Sinn Fein, too, appeared cautious about accepting the British government at its word, remembering other promises from Mowlam about triggering the Executive that fell by the wayside after unionist opposition.

With the European elections out of the way, a final political push to get the agreement implemented is now under way in time for the June deadline. Politicians are likely to be involved in the most intensive talks since the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement.

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Blair said he had yet to hear an alternative way forward to the agreement. "The agreement gives unionism a better deal than it has had for years," he said.

Trimble, who had a private meeting with the British prime minister on polling day, said the focus should be on working to achieve political progress but added that decommissioning of paramilitary weapons remains the main problem.

London sources say the British government is prepared to trigger the setting up of a shadow executive fairly soon after the count. This could be followed by an assessment on the status of disarming by the chairman of the decommissioning body, Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain.

Trimble is anxious to ensure there is no actual transfer of power, however, until some IRA decommissioning has begun and is arguing that the standing orders which govern how the Executive is set up should be changed to ensure this.

Trimble’s deputy — John Taylor — said on polling day that the Ulster Unionists would prefer to see the agreement fall than serve in a government with Sinn Fein before any IRA disarming.

He told a group of U.S. students visiting London that no one should be in any doubt about this. No democracy in the world, he said, would agree to join a government where some ministers belonged to a party with a private army.

Sinn Fein said it was an attempt to bully the two governments and have urged them to stand up to what they call "unionist wrecking tactics." Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams accused Taylor of trying to force the two governments and the other pro agreement parties.

The Irish government said the two government’s discussions would take place at all levels, under the overall supervision of the two prime ministers, who would then also, personally, join the talks for their closing stages, at the end of June.

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