One week left for talks breakthrough - Trimble

The British Secretary of State has said an election in the North of Ireland would lead to a ``dysfunctional assembly'' in Belfast without a move by the IRA.

Paul Murphy said continued Direct British Rule was still possible -- despite people's desire for devolved, local government a year after the power-sharing institutions were suspended.

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, meet in Rome tonight or tomorrow morning.

The Sinn Féin President, Mr Gerry Adams, and the UUP leader, Mr David Trimble, are also due to meet for the sixth time in recent weeks either today or tomorrow.

Progress has been reported in these discussions and the atmosphere at the negotiations is said to remain positive.

But government officials are insisting that it could take another 10 to 14 days of negotiations before it is known for certain if elections can be called that would lead to the return of the Assembly and Executive.

David Trimble today predicted negotiations were set to intensify.

``There's only a week or so left for progress to be achieved as I understand the timetable,'' he said.

``Let's hope that at some point we see the progress that is needed in terms of dealing with continuing paramilitary activity with acts of completion that are needed to enable the Assembly to be resumed.''

Gerry Adams has said republicans will not debate a gesture from the IRA without a set date for an Assembly election. But Trimble is demanding an announcement of historic proportions.

``The slow inch-by-inch transition which perhaps was not unreasonable five years ago is unreasonable now, five and a half years after the Agreement,'' he declared.

``To think that somehow government will bite on a lollypop and accept another inch or two is to make a fundamental mistake about where the government is and therefore where we are,'' he said.

Paul Murphy cautioned about ``renewed cold storage'' for politics in the North of Ireland if there was not real progress soon.

``When we have an assembly in Wales and a parliament in Scotland, with local ministers and local accountability, it just isn't right that Northern Ireland should be run by MPs from Torfaen, Merseyside, the Black Country and Essex,'' he added.

Meanwhile, Nigel Dodds of Ian Paisley's DUP accused the rival Ulster Unionist Party of begging both the British overnment and the IRA not to throw them naked into an election without the cover of a weapons decommissioning ``stunt''.

Mr Dodds was replying to a statement by the UUP's Reg Empey that republicans had to realise the need for `acts of completion' before an election is called.

``Sir Reg has revealed the UUP's true colours. They do not want an assembly election,'' Mr Dodds said.

``This is hardly surprising. If I were a member of a party who had negotiated the failed Belfast Agreement, the Weston Park deal and the joint declaration, I wouldn't want an election either.''


On Wednesday, the DUP was accused of trying to wreck efforts to revive the peace process after it claimed a senior PSNI police officer told DUP members that the IRA was `ready to go back to war'.

The comments follwoed a secret meeting of Policing Board members and the PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton.

``It's very clear the threat posed by Provisional IRA indicates that they are operationally ready for war,'' Mr Paisley said.

Mr Wilson said yesterday: ``This is the most damning security assessment we have had at this board in some time.

``Today in London Gerry Adams is sitting talking peace with David Trimble, while in Belfast the deputy chief constable is saying that the organisation behind Gerry Adams is operationally ready for war.''

Sinn Féin said it believed the police briefing was part of an attempt to derail the peace process.

Mr. Murphy, the party's former Assembly member for Newry and Armagh, also accused the DUP of being manipulated by those determined to halt political progress.

He said: ``The fact that the deputy chief constable is sitting down behind closed doors with members of the Policing Board says much about the supposed openness and transparency which we are told exists at the core of the new policing arrangements.

``At every delicate period in the political negotiations the DUP have become a willing conduit for the securocrats within the British system who wish to see the process subverted and the Good Friday Agreement collapsed.

``Republicans, however, will continue to work with the two governments and the other parties in the time ahead to find a resolution to the current crisis.''

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