Election tension mounts as talks continue
Election tension mounts as talks continue

Politicians in the North of Ireland are bracing themselves for an election as the search continues in Belfast for a breakthrough to revive the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The devolved local administration collapsed last October following the withdrawal of the Ulster Unionist Party over allegations of IRA activity.

Elections to the Belfast Assembly which were due in April were controversially cancelled twice this year by the British government.

On Monday, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams led a delegation to meet British Secretary of State Paul Murphy at Hillsborough Castle.

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey, who also attended the meeting, said afterwards that they had raised concerns about human rights and equality issues.

``The British government has not implemented issues arising from the Good Friday Agreement, long-standing issues on justice and equality and that is where our focus was here this morning,'' added Mr Maskey.

The devolution of power over responsibility for policing and justice were two issues of great importance to Sinn Féin, he added.

He also described some of the weekend speculation about an imminent IRA move was ``probably inaccurate and certainly unhelpful''.

More talks are due to take place today between Gerry Adams and Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble. Mr Trimble is also due to continue his discussion with the his party's officer board about party divisions over the recent British Irish joint declaration.

Meanwhile, the leader of the nationalist SDLP, Mark Durkan has predicted that even if it were not clear that elections would lead to the immediate restoration of the Executive and Assembly, he was confident that elections would happen before Christmas.

``Regardless of whether there is a deal, regardless of whether it is a messy deal, a fudged deal, or a near miss like we had back in spring, I think the situation will slide back into an election anyway,'' added Mr Durkan.

With election fever mounting, the hardline unionist DUP has made increasingly strident attacks on Trimble's UUP, accusing them that of negotiating a deal which would cause ``irretrievable damage'' to the union with Britain.

The two nationalist parties have clashed in Strabane have clashed over a planned protest at the first public meeting of the local police board tomorrow night.

The SDLP said the protest tomorrow night amounted to ``psychological intimidation'' of members following threats from dissident republicans against nationalist members of the District Policing Partnership (DPP).

Sinn Fein said it would hold a peaceful and dignified protest to highlight its opposition to the current structural and accountability arrangements of the DPPs.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News