Peace opportunity 'must be grasped'

Bertie Ahern said the opportunity must not be lost

History will "harshly judge" those who fail to take advantage of the "historic opportunity" to secure peace and stability for Northern Ireland, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has warned.

The Irish prime minister told a gathering of his party, Fianna Fail, that the "opportunity over the coming weeks must not be lost" or it would be "some considerable time before the political institutions are restored".

Mr Ahern was speaking on Sunday at his party's annual Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown in County Kildare.

He said progress was made both at last month's intensive talks at Leeds Castle in Kent and since then, but people now wanted "outcomes".

Pledging an even-handed approach to the operation of the Good Friday Agreement, he said its fundamentals could not be renegotiated but he indicated "sensible changes" in its implementation could be accommodated.

Mr Ahern repeated his call for an end to paramilitarism and said it was "essential" that policing got the support of the whole community.

He added that "in any well-constructed democratic society". support for the police was "naturally expected from all those who hold public office".

The Northern Ireland assembly has been suspended for more than two years.

The Stormont assembly has been suspended since October 2002

The political parties and the British and Irish Governments held negotiations at Leeds Castle, Kent, in September in an effort to conclude a deal which would see the restoration of the assembly.

However, the two governments were unable to get the Northern Ireland Assembly parties to sign up to a deal over power-sharing after unionists and nationalists clashed over future devolved institutions. The talks broke up without agreement.

The political institutions in Northern Ireland were suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the Northern Ireland Office.

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