The British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said there will be no return to power-sharing government in the North of Ireland unless all activity by the Provisional IRA ceases.
The Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Mr Blair are to meet in London on Friday and are expected to assess the prospects for fully implementing the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Blair said at Westminster today that he had consistently made clear there was no way the power-sharing institutions in the North could be allowed to function again without a total cessation of all IRA activity.
But it was important to try to reach agreement backed by all parties. “That has to be on a clear, shared democratic understanding.”
Responding to a question from Ulster Unionists, Mr Blair said: “I can assure you that there is no way we will be trying to force people into an executive and shared power with people unless they are prepared to give up their paramilitary activity completely.”
He added: “If the IRA do definitely and clearly cease paramilitary activity and give it up, so that that campaign of violence in all its aspects becomes a thing of the past, I hope that the DUP and the UUP will be prepared to go into Government with them.
“In my view the challenge is for the IRA to give up violence completely but then the challenge is for all the parties to come together and make the executive and all the institutions work.”
Nationalist frustration has continued to mount over the pace of progress in the ongoing talks in Belfast to review the 1998 accord.
While the Ulster Unionists have openly boycotted the talks, Ian Paisley’s DUP have apparently sought to limit and delay the talks until after elections to the Westminster parliament next year.
Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey said yesterday that it was the responsibility of the two governments to take the lead in the review and to ensure that it results in the maximum benefit possible for the overall process.
“This will not happen by narrowing the focus of the discussions, resulting in a failure to address other crucial matters which fall under the review remit,” Mr Maskey said.
He said the review agenda could not be narrowed to suit the agenda of the DUP or any other single party.
“As far back as last December, Sinn Féin presented the British government with an extensive list of issues which needed to be addressed as part of the review process if it was to make a positive contribution to overall efforts to see the process put back on track and the political institutions re-established,” Mr Maskey added.