Irish Republican News · July 23, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Hothouse talks planned for Kent
Hothouse talks planned for Kent

The 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have agreed to hold a three-day summit aimed at reviving the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in mid-September.

A moated castle in Kent will reportedly be the venue for the intensive negotiations by the two leaders and the northern parties.

Negotiations have already been pencilled in from September 16th to 18th. The talks are being modelled on the intensive negotiations at Weston Park near Birmingham three years ago.

In advance of the talks there will be preparatory negotiations in the first two weeks of September involving British and Irish ministers and the parties at Stormont.

Mr Blair has sought to put pressure on the North’s parties to make progress in advance of the summit, saying the peace process would be “in difficulty” otherwise.

The British PM declared that people were “beyond the point of compromise” over IRA activity.

He is insisting that Sinn Féin ends all links with armed struggle if it wants to take part in politics in the North.

He also said it was incumbent on Ian Paisley’s DUP to then sit down in government with Sinn Féin,

Asked at his monthly press conference whether September was a deadline for agreement, Mr Blair responded: “There is no point being arbitrary about it, but unless we really do make progress in September, we are in difficulty.”

He insisted his commitment to the peace process remained “absolutely total”.

But Mr Blair added: “If I was to turn up at another one of our press conferences after a further meeting and say ‘We have had a very good discussion and we are going to carry on discussing it, but we haven’t agreed it yet’, I think even the most optimistic person would start to say it was never going to happen.”

DEAL POSSIBLE - DUP

Speaking in Donegal, the Democratic Unionist Party MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, expressed confidence last night that the deadlock in the peace process could be broken in the autumn.

Mr Donaldson said that “the end of paramilitarism” would lead to new opportunities.

“With politics working and violence a thing of the past, real issues can be the central focus of political life in Northern Ireland. We may not always agree but at least we will have created a framework for resolving our differences.”

It was also important that the institutions of government had widespread support in the North.

“There may have been other short-term issues which have precipitated the fall of arrangements but the underlying message is clear. Unionist and nationalist support is needed if political arrangements are to last.”

‘NEW REALISM’ - McGUINNESS

Also speaking at the Patrick McGill summer school in Donegal was Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness. He said his party believed completely in the need to build relationships with unionism.

“The result of the November election and the more recent European election brought a new political reality. Sinn Féin and the DUP are now the main political parties in the North.

“But this new reality must bring a new political realism. It certainly places a huge responsibility on the two governments, the DUP and Sinn Féin to act responsibly to find a way forward.”

The Sinn Féin negotiator said there was a need to make politics work as a credible and effective alternative to conflict.

“That has been the lesson of the last 10 years, when peace-making replaced conflict. We need to build on what works,” he said.

“The enormous progress which we have achieved over the past 10 years is proof positive that an approach based on inclusivity, equality and mutual respect does work. It requires hard work and, at times, even harder decisions. But that is the nature of peace making.

“The challenge for all of us in the time ahead is to build on that work and ensure that progress continues. Our history on this island, and our relationship with our closet neighbour, has been difficult and at times destructive,” he added.

“Sinn Féin wants to find a lasting peace between republicanism and unionism on this island and between Britain and Ireland. To do so we must put the failures of the past behind us.”

© 2004 Irish Republican News