Irish Independent

Leaders fear DUP demands will halt Provo disarmament moves

DEMANDS by Ian Paisley's DUP could scupper a deal for full IRA disarmament.

That is the fear of the Irish and British governments in the wake of talks at Leeds Castle in Kent.

The DUP wants changes in the Good Friday Agreement which Sinn Fein sees as an attempt to reimpose unionist majority rule at Stormont.

It wants to give the assembly power to restrict the actions of other ministers in matters such as cross-border relations. This would amount to giving the DUP, as the majority party, the power of veto.

The governments will now try to convince the DUP to back off from this approach, which has also met with disapproval from the SDLP, the Alliance Party, and the UUP.

Three days of talks at Leeds Castle ended in disappointment for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair for the third time in 18 months.

But the leaders said the parties were "close" to agreeing the handful of issues separating them.

Mr Ahern said: "We have made progress on the key issues that have created the deficits of confidence over the past, including paramilitarism, arms decommissioning, and policing.

"We now have the real prospect of securing acts of completion that we have been seeking over the last few years."

Prime Minister Tony Blair added: "I can't believe that this set of institutional issues is going to destroy what otherwise I think would be a very good deal. I think it is important that any institutional structure we agree holds very firm to the basic fairness and equilibrium set out in the Good Friday Agreement."

Foreign Minister Brian Cowen yesterday emphasised the need for "partnership and equality politics" and said it was "just not credible" to ordinary people that politicians might "walk away just as we are about to bring about a transformation in politics".

Meanwhile, church leaders expressed disappointment that a deal had not been reached, with Archbishop Sean Brady saying compromise was needed.

The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Rev Ken Newell, said a great opportunity had been missed to close down the IRA for good. "They need to clarify why they did not reel this opportunity in."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the problem was "essentially about elements of political unionism and their failure or reticence to embrace a process of change".

"One party did not negotiate, one party did not talk to the rest of us, so therein you have some sense of where all of this is," he said as the talks ended.

But DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said yesterday his party would engage "constructively" in the Stormont talks and added: "We will only get one chance at this, and if it takes a little extra time to get it right, then that is worth doing."

Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble said they had to find out if the DUP wanted to "wreck" the Agreement, but he was "optimistic" because since the Assembly elections people who had formerly been opponents of the process seemed to be "buying into it".

The discussions of recent days, he said, had accelerated that, as there had been "no movement away from the fundamentals".

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said it seemed to many that the DUP was trying to "retro-fit" majority rule on to the Agreement.

Some observers believe the DUP refused to sign up to the deal simply because it needed to look "tough", and will agree a settlement within the next few weeks providing it receives at least cosmetic changes to the operation of the assembly - a key demand of its 2003 election manifesto.

Gene McKenna and
Bernard Purcell in Kent

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