Paisley to meet Ahern ahead of February 3 review

Ian Paisley is to hold direct face-to-face talks with the Irish Prime Minister in what will be the first-ever such meeting.

Answering questions after a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern confirmed he would be meeting the DUP and Mr Paisley as part of discussion leading up to the review of the Good Friday Agreement next month. However, the DUP has not yet confirmed the meeting.

The review will begin on Tuesday, February 3rd, the Irish and British Governments announced today.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said he hoped the review would be concluded by Easter. Sinn Féin wants to review to last no longer than a month, while British officials have said the review could last two or three months.

Emerging from a 90-minute meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street, Mr Ahern said: ``While we have not put a fixed date on it we see Easter as a fair period of time to make an assessment.''

Parties will meet for talks two days a week and while some bi-laterals might be necessary the talks would be ``as round table as much as possible'', he said.

Mr Ahern said the two days a week was necessary for the review, which would be co-chaired by the two governments. He said the working arrangements were for the parties to decide.

It is understood Mr Ahern also raise the failure of the British government to release the Cory report into suspected collusion of the British security services in four controversial murders.

Earlier today, Ian Paisley announced he would quit the European Parliament in June. The DUP leader confirmed at Stormont he would not be seeking re-election.

The decision has recalled an infamous display of bigotry at the European Parliament. In 1988 Paisley was ejected from the European Parliament when he attempted to shout down an address by Pope John Paul II with a rant about popery.

In 1979, he became the first MEP to speak in the Parliament with a protest that the British Union Jack was flying upside down. The DUP leader has also regularly interrupted the speech of Irish Prime Ministers.

The 77-year-old North Antrim MP insisted he was ``not running away from Europe''.

``I am going to be here in Northern Ireland. I am going to be in every one of these talks. Bertie Ahern will get away with nothing.''

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson tonight paid tribute to Paisley, claiming the North owed him ``a debt of gratitude'' for his work in Europe.

Mr Paisley's son, Ian Junior, and North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds are seen as the front runners to take Paisley's seat at the next European election in June.

The DUP claims it is continuing to make gains at the expense of the Ulster Unionist Party following the November Assembly election. The party was bolstered by the news that the Dunmurry and Seymour Hill Ulster Unionist branch has voted to dissolve itself. The move has been linked to the departure of local MP Jeffrey Donaldson to the DUP.

The UUP, however, has said that almost 60 new members have applied to join the party in the Lagan Valley constituency since Donaldson and two other hardliners defected to the DUP.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty has launched a stinging attack on the record of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Responding to comments by Mr Blair last week, Mr. Doherty said: the British PM had ``raised the issue of `acts of completion' by Republicans but made no mention of unionist paramilitaries, at a time when they are creating havoc on the streets of Belfast and threatening more violence if they do not get their way in Maghaberry.

``There was no mention from Mr. Blair of the promised demilitarisation by British Crown Forces in Ireland.

``But perhaps more significant was no mention or sign that the Cory Report into the killings of citizens by the various British Agencies is to be published or acted upon.

``What about your acts of completion Mr. Blair?''

In other news, it was announced that Sinn Féin president Mr Gerry Adams will meet senior US officials when he travels to Washington tomorrow.

Mr Adams will also hold talks with US political figures and will visit former US president Mr Jimmy Carter in Atlanta.

``This visit will provide me with an opportunity to brief the US government and senior political figures on the situation in the north following November's Assembly elections,'' Mr Adams said.

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