Controversial peace proposals discussed

The Irish and British governments are presenting their formula for a deal to the DUP and Sinn Féin later today [Wednesday] in the hope of striking a deal involving a return of power-sharing government in the North and a public move by the Provisional IRA to wind up its activities.

The DUP continues to refuse to hold direct talks with Sinn Féin.

A DUP delegation is expected to receive a copy of the proposals in London from the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, while Sinn Féin are to be given the paper in Dublin by the Irish Prime Minister.

The issue of IRA disarmament has proved the most controversial issue, with the hardline unionist party demanding a public display of disarmament as a symbolic victory over the IRA.

It is being reported that the two governments are hoping that “visual evidence” of IRA arms decommissioning -- in photograph or video form -- could be released at a future date.

Such photographs would most likely be released when it was clear that the DUP was taking part in the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. The images, which would inevitably emerge into the public domain, could then be viewed on the internet.

Another proposal, more acceptable to republicans, calls for representatives from the Catholic and Protestant churches to join General John de Chastelain in overseeing and verifying future acts of IRA disarmament.

The DUP’s Gregory Campbell said that if churchmen were present, it would represent “some progress”.

But he insisted: “We need to have credible and viable decommissioning and there needs to be a visual aspect to it if we are to give confidence to the community.

“There was a failure to do that in the past.”

Attempts by the DUP to limit nationalist influence in a revived administration remains another source of considerable disagreement.

The governments’ proposals are expected to tackle this issue by making ministers in the devolved administration more “accountable” to the other community. Fears have been expressed that this could create deadlock in the governance of the Six Counties.

The paper may also include a proposal to elect the First and Deputy First Minister and their ministers at the same time -- to save the DUP the potential embarrassment of voting for a Sinn Féin minister.

A Sinn Féin spokesman described the reports as speculation and refused to comment further.

He said: “We have consistently refused to comment in any way on the detail of discussions with the Government. In particular we have refused to get involved in any speculation that has existed around the issue of arms.”

Earlier, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said that any proposals coming from the two governments aimed at breaking the current impasse in the process ‘had to be grounded in the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement’.

“The reason we have not achieved a comprehensive deal is the DUPs continued opposition to the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said. “In particular they have targeted its all-Ireland and the power sharing core.

“If there is going to be a deal then that deal can only be based on the framework provided by the Good Friday Agreement. There can be no other way.”

The presentation of the proposals will herald a week of intense discussions. If there is still no agreement in sight, the talks could be suspended until the New Year.

* At the annual conference of Republican Sinn Féin at the weekend, party president Ruairi O Bradaigh again insisted that any move by the Provisional IRA to decommission its remaining weapons would be akin to accepting British rule in Ireland.

* At his party’s annual conference, also at the weekend, Ulster Unionist David Trimble accused the DUP of “flip-flopping” on the peace process. There was no sign of internal feuding, apart from the early departure from the conference of hardliner David Burnside.

* Belfast deputy mayor, Sinn Féin’s Joe O’Donnell, has announced he is to quit local government. He said he had made the decision after discussing the matter with family and friends, but that he would remain active in the party.

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