IOL: Blair to push peace process agenda to NI parties

Blair to push peace process agenda to NI parties
15/12/2003 - 06:44:02

Tony Blair is set to urge Northern Ireland’s political leaders to break the peace process deadlock during meetings in London this week.

All five of the main political parties are expected to see the British Prime Minister at Downing Street in a bid to map out plans for a New Year review of the Good Friday Agreement.

British government sources described the talks, which are expected to take place on Wednesday, as a stock-taking exercise after last month’s Assembly elections left the prospect of devolution returning to Belfast even more remote.

“We don’t expect to know what the parties want in the review until the end of the month, but the Prime Minister wanted to see them before Christmas,” one official said.

Hopes of restoring the Stormont power-sharing administration that has been suspended since a suspected spy-ring was uncovered 14 months ago suffered a major setback in the elections.

Ian Paisley’s hardline Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin swept ahead of the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP respectively as the biggest Assembly parties on either side of the sectarian divide.

With the DUP refusing to go into government with republicans until the IRA is scrapped for good, many feared years of direct rule from London.

Both Mr Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern are adamant the Good Friday accord is not up for renegotiation.

But Mr Blair will challenge the nationalist and unionist leaders, along with the centre-ground Alliance Party, to help come up with solutions.

Sources close to the negotiations insisted that months, even years, of painstaking discussions was not inevitable.

“This is about seeing what is do-able. It doesn’t necessarily have to be long but that depends on how quickly the parties want to engage.”

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