07 February 2006

Paisley vetoes SF role in talks to bring back North bodies

Irish Independent

Gene McKenna, at Hillsborough Castle
7 February 2006

MAJOR obstacles to efforts by the Irish and British governments to restore the Northern institutions emerged on the first day of renewed talks yesterday.

The Northern parties have been given until April to make significant headway with the fresh bid to revive devolution.

But a continued hardline approach by Dr Ian Paisley's DUP towards any involvement with Sinn Fein is likely to mean that timeframe cannot be met.

The moves to end the three-year stalemate began with Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern and Northern Secretary Peter Hain meeting the parties individually during the day at Hillsborough Castle.

But it is obvious they face considerable problems in trying to close gaps between unionists and nationalists.

Dr Paisley said Sinn Fein should not be in talks with the governments while criminality is ongoing.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the agenda should not be set by the DUP and it was time for the governments to assert themselves and to move the process on quickly. He said that, despite Dr Paisley's stance, his attendance at the talks showed "things have changed".

Timescale

The two ministers told the parties that they would have to work to a tight timescale if they were to have meaningful assembly elections next year. Mr Ahern said any deal would be determined by the template of the Good Friday Agreement.

After meeting Mr Hain and Mr Ahern, Dr Paisley said the IRA must disband before his party would go into government with republicans. He claimed the Irish government was "backing" the IRA.

"There was no agreement between us, there is a great gulf because the southern government still thinks the IRA should be there and by right should be taking part in these discussions and by right should be in any future government of Northern Ireland," he said.

Mr Hain ruled out recalling the assembly in an attempt to force all-party agreement, saying he was not prepared to recall the assembly simply to have it "shipwrecked".

Mr Hain said: "This year is the big year. That is the timeframe." British and Irish officials were keen to stress that the talks were not merely a stocktaking exercise or "for the optics", as Mr Hain phrased it.

They were the launch of a concerted effort to bridge the gaps between the parties. "There is no reason at all for any political party not to negotiate on the future politics of Northern Ireland now," Mr Hain said.

The parties will meet the North's Political Development Minister David Hanson for more talks next week.

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