‘Big house’ talks plan
‘Big house’ talks plan

26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Tony Blair are reported to be considering holding “hothouse” talks with the North’s parties in Scotland in the second week in October.

The talks would start on either the Monday or Tuesday of October 9th or 10th - some days after the IMC government agency publishes its latest report on Provisional IRA activity.

Mr Ahern and Mr Blair may be planning that a positive IMC report would be the catalyst to convince DUP leader Ian Paisley that he should agree before the governments’ deadline of November 24th to enter a power-sharing Six County administration alongside Sinn Féin.

The governments have routinely hosted similar intensive talks at critical times of the peace process at secluded mansions and castles in Britain, although the routinely negative outcome has allowed cynicism to grow over the years.

it is being reported that the first week in October was earmarked for talks and officials were seeking a venue in Scotland, although the parties have yet to agree to such a meeting.

The talks would mirror the format used at Leeds Castle in Kent two years ago, when the parties got together in an intensive negotiating atmosphere.

But Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey last night poured cold water on the idea and claimed such a move would be nothing more than a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“The cost of hiring the venue, the associated security, flying over, accommodating and feeding a large number of Assembly members and staff is astronomical and a chronic waste of public expenditure,” he said.

“The big house spectacular summit may have worked in the past in terms of the optics and trying to generate a pressure cooker environment but in reality they achieved little.

“Can anyone in Northern Ireland name one big house summit where a breakthrough was made?” he asked. “The answer is no. The contrary is true.”


Meanwhile, a meeting of the ‘shadow’ Belfast Assembly at Stormont is due to be held on September 11 to discuss the North’s economy.

The debate by the powerless body has been dismissed as a ‘wendy House’ debate by Sinn Féin, which has rejected the shadow assembly as “meaningless and pointless”. The rival nationalist SDLP has backed the debates, however.

“The British government predictably ignored every decision taken in the talking shop,” said Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy.

“Most nationalists would have presumed that given this experience the SDLP would be a little more reticent about getting involved once again in the DUP pet project of an Assembly without power.”

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