By Anne Cadwallader and Jack Holland
BELFAST — The British and Irish governments are considering ³new ingredients² in the latest attempt to salvage the Good Friday agreement, according to reliable sources. The news emerged as both governments and the three main pro-agreement parties were in London Tuesday trying to hammer out an agreed position to allow the reinstatement of the assembly and power-sharing Executive. At the core of the new process is the need to build confidence on all sides, according to these sources.
Sinn Fein is said to be seeking an international court to ajudicate on future disputes about British-Irish agreements to avoid unilateral moves by Britain, as happened on Feb. 11 when London suspended the power-sharing government.
Unionists would be seeking at the very least a timetable for decommissioning with a target date for its completion.
It was announced that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair will travel to Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast on Thursday for further talks.
The Ulster Unionist deputy leader, John Taylor, said his party would require movement from the republican side on arms decommissioning before they would tolerate a second try at sharing power with Sinn Fein.
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Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said if the present approach to IRA disarmament is maintained, decommissioning would never happen.
"There are no guarantees for Sinn Fein. There are no guarantees for anybody else, but there is this certainty: if we maintain the present approach on IRA disarmament, there will never be IRA disarmament," he said.
The two governments, meanwhile, are understood to be close to reaching a shared position on decommissioning. But they had not agreed to a document by presstime amid reports of a deteriorating relationship between the British Northern secretary, Peter Mandelson, and the Irish foreign affairs minister, Brian Cowen.
All the Northern parties say that it is premature to expect a breakthrough this week, but on Tuesday efforts were renewed with the taoiseach and the British prime minister meeting the parties in Downing Street.
UUP sources say party leader, David Trimble, is "perturbed" that the British government may agree to proposals that fall short of republicans giving a firm commitment on decommissioning.
The same sources suggested such a development would mean great difficulties for the UUP leader’s position. Trimble’s problems were compounded by the unexpected death last week of one of his MPs, Clifford Forsythe, who was 70.
Forsythe was first elected to Westminster in 1983 and had an extremely low media profile, earning the nickname "Clifford Who?" Trimble said he was shocked and deeply saddened by Forsythe’s death, describing him as an excellent colleague whom he would miss.
Forsythe was a critic of the Good Friday Agreement, but was not openly critical of Trimble’s leadership of the party. The fiery DUP preacher Willie McCrea, who was deprived of his Mid-Ulster seat by Martin McGuinness’s victory, is likely to run in South Antrim for the DUP, leaving the UUP with the problem of who to run, whether pro or anti-agreement.
Should the UUP lose the seat to the DUP, it is likely to mean the end of Trimble’s leadership of the party.
In a separate development, both the SDLP and Sinn Fein are furious that a parliamentary bill, outlining changes to the RUC, significantly watered down proposals contained in the Patten Report on the future of policing.
The 50-page leaked document reveals that the RUC will be renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Officers will have to register their membership of organizations including the Orange Order, Royal Black Institution, Freemasons, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
The SDLP’s Seamus Mallon and Alex Attwood said a decision to refer the force’s badge and insignia — to the new Police Board, the chief constable and existing members of the force — was a "retreat" from the original recommendation to scrap the existing harp and crown badge.
Mallon said the government must "grasp the policing nettle" and fully implement Patten’s proposals. "It would be quite tragic if that were jeopardized in favor of one or two symbols which of themselves are pretty weak, but in terms of what they imply, have a potency that is very important in terms of obtaining an objective," he said.