'Uncompromising to the hilt'

By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland correspondent

Just when Tony Blair thought his week couldn't get any worse, along came the DUP leader Ian Paisley.

Paisley wants to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement

Never mind Batman at the palace, there was the Big Man at the castle.

Ian Paisley revels in his Big Man nickname. It's a reference to his large frame, and booming voice.

Ok, so he's not as big as he used to be, but he certainly cast a large shadow over the three days of negotiations at Leeds Castle.

One of the main reasons there was no agreement was down to him and the party he has led for more three decades. The deal on offer didn't meet DUP standards.

Unrealistic demands?

One leading party member summed up the mood: "If the IRA are saying 'we will give you a few guns if you take the Good Friday Agreement' then the answer is no."

But was it only a few guns? The impression others were giving was that the IRA may be prepared to give them all up, perhaps by Christmas. And what is more, there would be peaceful words to match the ground-breaking deeds.

As one nationalist politician put it: "The DUP had the chance to win the big prize, and turned their noses up at it." So what issue wrecked the deal?

It seems it wasn't the paramilitaries, but the politics... a dispute over the power-sharing arrangements for any new assembly at Stormont.

The DUP took part in the last assembly (which collapsed two years ago) but they didn't like the rule book - the Good Friday Agreement.

In fact, since that deal was signed six years ago, Ian Paisley has fought every election on the basis that he wanted to smash the old Agreement and negotiate a new one.

David Trimble said the core of the agreement was unscathed

The problem is, all the other parties in Northern Ireland are quite happy with that deal. So if there is going to be breakthrough in the next few months, there's going to have to be some fancy footwork - a deal that one side can say is a new agreement, while the others say is simply an improved version of the old one.

It's easier said than done. But the parties will continue to make an effort. The talks roadshow now moves from Kent to Stormont with renewed negotiations between the parties and the British and Irish governments next week.

Tony Blair will not be there. He has a few others things on his plate - Iraq, the controversy over the hunting ban, the Commons security crisis and the pre-election annual Labour Party conference.

We're told, however, that Mr Blair will zoom into Belfast at short notice if he feels the negotiations are near to completion. All the parties say they want a deal - including the leaders of Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Peace by Christmas? Only if the talks process produces some real-life super heroes.

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