The British Prime Minister and 26-County Taoiseach have vowed to press for a political deal in the North of Ireland as they hailed the disarming of the Provisional IRA during talks in London.
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern held discussions for 45 minutes at Downing Street yesterday. It was their first meeting since it was confirmed last month that the IRA has put its weapons beyond use.
They are understood to have discussed a forthcoming report by the IMC government agency, which is expected to say the IRA has been observing its commitment to end all activity. The governments are expected to push for a powersharing deal following a further IMC report in January.
With Ian Paisley’s DUP still refusing to hold direct talks with Sinn Fein, the party’s demands for the reconstitution of the Parades Commission and the Police Board were high on the agenda.
The 26-County Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern and British Direct Ruler Peter Hain will meet this day week to plan meetings with the North’s political parties. They will try to resolve these disagreements and other outstanding issues.
Mr Blair said that it was “very significant” that the IRA has disarmed.
“It was a genuinely significant change in the politics of Northern Ireland and the whole of the island of Ireland,” he said.
He also praised last week’s police raids in Manchester, purportedly designed to seize IRA property assets, and put it in the context of building unionist confidence.
“What people in Northern Ireland want to see is that there isn’t any tolerance for that kind of activity.
“There isn’t any no-go area, any tolerance, there is no ambiguity about what is right and what is wrong. Anybody who supports criminal activity from whatever part of the spectrum, whatever organisation they come from, our agencies are going to get after them.”
The two governments were now “looking to create the circumstances in which we can get devolved government back to Northern Ireland”.
Mr Ahern welcomed the fact that the two premiers were meeting for the first time without “the shadow of the IRA gunman”.
He added: “The fact that there is a clampdown on criminality, on money laundering, or the sales of any goods, illicit goods or products or anything . . . The citizens on the island of Ireland and everywhere else will see that that is a good thing.”
Ahern said it was vital that confidence be increased to fuel the return of the North’s power-sharing institutions.
“If we can get that momentum then there is no reason in springtime why we should not be engaging trying to bring back the institutions again.”
Speaking in advance of the meeting, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said he wanted to see more evidence of the two premiers’ commitment to injecting momentum into the peace process.
“There are a number of things that need to happen and on which the two governments have already made commitments - the political institutions need to be restored, the British government need to come forward with legislation on policing and justice, the Equality Commission and Human Rights Commission need additional resources and powers, northern representation for all MPs - nationalist, unionist and republican - in the Oireachtas and the completion the process of demilitarisation.
“There is nothing new in any of this -- these are issues which are at the core of the Good Friday Agreement which was signed seven years ago and they have been at the core of every negotiation since then. They must be delivered now.”