The 26-County Dublin government has said it is prepared to work with the unionist paramilitary UDA to advance the peace process despite the group's ongoing campaign of violence.

Following talks in Dublin with the organisation's political representatives, the Ulster Political Research Group, Mr Ahern said he hoped the meeting, along with others, would ``over time build a constructive relationship with the wider loyalist community''.

The group is keen to secure better conditions for loyalist prisoners in Northern jails and recently mounted a campaign of pipe-bombing northern prison warders to that end.

``I know that all too often, loyalist people feel their voices are not heard, and their concerns are ignored,'' said Ahern. ``I am encouraged by some of the positive work of the Loyalist Commission and the Ulster Political Research Group.

``I stressed that progress can only be made when there is peace on the streets and that the use of violence, the threat of violence and involvement in criminality are contrary to the interests of everybody, including the loyalist community itself.''

The UDA most recently declared a new ceasefire almost one year ago, but it simply continued its violence on a number of fronts, albeit at a reduced level.

Following the 90-minute meeting, UDA spokesman Tommy Kirkham said: ``It was an open meeting. It was amicable. We discussed the situation within the prisons. In fact, we asked for support for a review of the prisons' situation. He said he would work with us in the future. Today is only the start of a whole series of meetings.''

Mr Kirkham said it was ``an historic occasion'' when his group travelled to Dublin to get an audience for its concerns.

``For some months now there seems to have been a pandering to the IRA by the Secretary of State and by the British Prime Minister. It is only right that we bring those concerns to the Taoiseach,'' Mr Kirkham told journalists.


Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has published its agenda for the review of the Good Friday Agreement due to start next Tuesday.

Party leader Gerry Adams has said that the Review will not be a renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement but was an opportunity to accelerate the ``process of change'' promised in the Agreement.

The party has focused on four key areas - stability of the [suspended] Institutions; Equality and Human Rights; Expansion of All Ireland Commitments; and Demilitarisation, policing and justice.

``The purpose of the Review is to identify how best to deliver the full implementation of the Agreement,'' Mr Adams said. This requires a focus on the failure of the British government to deliver on key commitments on policing, demilitarisation, equality and the issue of human rights.

``Sinn Fein will approach this review positively. The other pro-Agreement parties and the two governments must also take a positive and constructive approach. The future of the Good Friday Agreement demands this.

``The Good Friday Agreement committed the participants to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and trust and the vindication of the human rights of all. We collectively committed ourselves to partnership, equality and mutual respect.

``To be effective the review must defend and accelerate the process of change promised in the Good Friday Agreement''.

  • The party has also publicly announced independent Donegal Councillor Thomas Pringle's decision to join Sinn Fein.

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