By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — A sustained effort to break the deadlock in the peace process over IRA arms decommissioning is being planned by the Irish and British governments in the run-up to Easter, though few observers expect it to be successful.
It seems increasingly likely that central proposals in the Good Friday agreement, such as the power-sharing Executive and North-South Ministerial Council, will be mothballed in the face of increasing unionist hostility.
Sinn Fein’s president, Gerry Adams, whose party ard fheis will be held in Dublin this weekend, has already said that the Ulster Unionist Party has effectively rejected the agreement by voting to not reenter a power-sharing government with his party unless the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is retained.
In the absence of resurrecting the power-sharing government by Easter, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Irish government will be likely to concentrate on the need to implement all other aspects of the agreement, such as equality measures, police reform and demilitarization.
The taoiseach, Bertie Ahern had separate meetings this week with both Adams and the UUP leader, David Trimble, in Dublin. Ahern said Trimble would be willing to meet the IRA directly, should such an offer be made, in a bid to resolve the decommissioning impasse.
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After his meeting with Adams, Ahern said it had been a "useful exchange." Adams said the Irish government has to persuade the British government to return to devolved government.
"I certainly think there is a sense of urgency on the part of the Irish government and the taoiseach, which we share," Adams said. "There is only once chance left in the near future to sort this out. The hammer blow inflicted on the process by the suspension of the institutions cannot be absorbed for ever. That has to be rectified."
Following his meeting with Ahern, Trimble said: "It is a truism that we have only a limited amount of time. We have been at this for quite some time now, nearly two years, and obviously we will be in difficulties with regard to credibility if the problems we have cannot be resolved.
"The sooner we can resolve this, the better. But at the same time, I don’t think it is helpful to increase the tension over this problem."
British Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson reflected the sense of growing gloom this weekend when he said there was a risk of "slipping back into the conflict and violence of the past."
While Mandelson said paramilitary disarmament was essential, he also warned unionists against "raising the bar" and making it difficult for republicans to give up their weapons.
"Unionists have got to convince republicans that if they do deal with arms, they are not going to constantly raise the bar, ask for more, raising fresh obstacles to make it harder for people to reach that accommodation," he said.
Earlier, Trimble hinted again that he would be prepared to re-enter government with Sinn Fein without prior decommissioning. He said on radio that he was prepared to take a calculated risk to save the peace process.
"If there is anything that looks to me as though there is an assurance that it will work, then I’ll bring it to the [ruling UUP] council and the council will decide," he said. "We will help where we can, as I am sure the two governments will, but it is up to republicans to face up to change."
Meanwhile, the UUP is to urge the British government this week to ignore the Patten Commission recommendations on policing in Northern Ireland and to retain the name and symbols of the RUC.
A special half-day debate in London’s House of Commons is planned for Thursday. The UUP will have the support of the British Conservative Party in the debate, but even together the two parties do not have sufficient votes to beat the ruling Labor Party.
The anti-Agreement Lagan Valley UUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, said "We’re putting down a marker in advance of the government bringing forward the legislation to implement the proposals in the Patten report."