Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams has said he is pessimistic about the prospects of prospect of a breakthrough at next week’s peace talks at Leeds Castle in southern England.
Mr Adams said he was not hopeful of a deal given the position of Ian Paisley’s DUP on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He said it was important to remember that the hardline unionist party was about “destroying” the Agreement.
Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister insisted today that the talks process could be brought to a halt unless there was a “complete and unequivocal end to violence” by the Provisional IRA and subsequent unionist agreement to share power with Sinn Féin.
The talks are already hampered by the refusal of the DUP, the dominant unionist party in the suspended Belfast Assembly, to engage in direct talks with Sinn Féin.
But speaking in Dublin yesterday, Mr Adams pointed out that DUP had said that even if the IRA disbanded, the DUP would still not sit down with Sinn Féin for at least a year.
“Why would you expect unionism to embrace this process if their political leaders see it to be to their disadvantage?” he asked. “They will only start to embrace it when they see that progress is going ahead anyway.
He said: “We want to see a comprehensive deal which brings all of the outstanding issues to a definitive closure. But all we have been hearing is partial deals, delayed deals or deals over very long periods. We don’t want that.”
“The overall strategy for a process of change is destroyed if there is no progress and that would be dreadful,” he said.
Mr Adams, who was accompanied by Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Mr Martin McGuinness and policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly, said those who believed progress can be made with the destruction of the Agreement “were kidding themselves”.
Mr Blair, speaking outside his Sedgefield home following talks with 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today, said that new talks between the parties next week represent a crucial juncture.
Mr Blair said: “It is two years now since I made a speech ... about acts of completion, saying in effect we had to move the whole thing forward and get it done.
“Two years on, the elements are still the same. It is apparent what has to happen, there has to be a complete and unequivocal end to violence, there has to be a willingness on that basis to share power.
“The elements are clear, the question is, is the will clear? I mean, do people really want to do it?
“There is no point in us continually having these meetings unless that will exists and we will find out next week whether it really does.”
The head of the independent arms decommissioning body, General John de Chastelain, is to return next week in the hope of moves on arms arising from the talks. It was also confirmed that US envoy Mitchell Reiss would join the talks.
Preliminary talks have continued in Belfast in advance of the ‘hothouse’ negotiations at the moated Leeds Castle venue.
But Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness warned that if a deal is not delivered, it would then be up to the British and Irish governments to push ahead with elements of the Good Friday Agreement that did not require the assent of unionists.
In such an eventuality, unionists would be faced with a form of administration that would be more “unpalatable” than what could emerge from Leeds Castle, he said.