Tony Blair’s official spokesman said on Thursday that both premiers would have a series of meetings but no round-table talks at Hillsborough Castle. He said it was simply an opportunity to update politicians on both governments’ current thinking. All the unionist parties boycotted Thursday’s talks in Belfast. Blair has called for “acts of completion” from the IRA, and Sinn Fein has countered by seeking other “acts of completion” in areas like demilitarization, policing and on-the-run prisoners.
Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin described the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble’s decision to stay away as “disappointing.”
The British government concluded in a report that sectarianism is worsening in Northern Ireland. Des Browne, the British minister with responsibility for community relations, has launched a consultation process on what new direction and policies should be implemented to reduce sectarianism. He said more than 70 percent of public housing estates are almost entirely segregated; less than 5 percent of children attend integrated schools, and division often limits the choices made about where people work. Browne also met the former Ulster Unionist junior minister with responsibility for equality, Dermot Nesbitt. Nesbitt said he had “won an assurance” that the [British] government will examine the “operation of the controversial Equality Commission.”
He accused the Commission of “peddling a myth about inequality and underpinning the propaganda of the republican movement.”
Former Sinn Fein health minister Bairbre de Brun expressed concern about Nesbitt’s comments that there was no need for an Equality Commission. “Commitments in the agreement aimed at eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between the Protestant and Catholic communities must be implemented,” she said.
In a separate development, it was revealed that lawyers acting for the British Labor Party are of the opinion that people living in Northern Ireland are not British subjects. The opinion came in legal correspondence between the British Labor Party and the Commission for Racial Equality in London. The Labor Party’s lawyers were responding to an accusation that the party was guilty of racial discrimination by refusing to accept members living in Northern Ireland. They do, however, accept members from the Irish Republic.