A fresh attempt to end the political deadlock in the North of Ireland is to be made next month with intensive new talks in Scotland.
26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be racking up the pressure on all sides for a deal in advance of the November 24th deadline which has been set to reach a settlement.
British Direct Ruler Peter Hain confirmed today that the talking will take place at a location outside the North of Ireland, widely reported to be somewhere in Scotland.
The talks are likely to begin sometime around the week beginning October 9th.
Mr Hain insisted today that the governments will not be going back on the November 24 deadline for a return of power-sharing in the North.
Salaries and other allowances for members of the shadow Assembly would stop if an agreement was not reached, he warned.
At Stormont Castle, Mr Hain said: “The onus is absolutely on the parties to make it work and make that prize their own.
“Only the parties can travel the distance and complete the journey -- it is down to them.”
He added that the British government had done all it could to build confidence and said the relatively peaceful marching season had helped lay the groundwork for a successful round of negotiations.
“We need to concentrate minds,” he said, speaking of moving talks outside the North.
“I think it’s much better to get away from the day-to-day issues and daily pressures that face all politicians.”
Meanwhile, Bertie Ahern has admitted discussions have taken place about alternatives if the political institutions in the North cannot not get up and running again.
The so-called ‘Preparation for Government’ committee involving all the main parties in the shadow assembly has been in discussion since May but there has been no notable progress.
Speaking at a Fianna Fail party meeting in County Mayo, Mr Ahern praised those who had worked to ensure “this summer was the quietest and most peaceful summer in Northern Ireland that we’ve had in 40 years”.
He added: “I appreciate that the talks have continued over the summer. They are making better progress.
“I have to be frank and say that ‘better progress’ means they are now talking to each other and being polite to each other rather than agreeing things.
“We now need to get the institutions up and running.
“Obviously we’ve had discussions about alternatives but I really don’t see alternatives as a success. If we have to have alternatives, we’ll have alternatives.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein said London and Dublin would need to outline a plan of action if they are serious in restoring the institutions.
The party is seeking urgent talks with British and Irish officials and warned yesterday that it expected to see some indication by Friday of the governments’ intentions.
Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said: “Public confidence requires a serious effort from the two governments in the coming weeks.
“Sinn Fein is committed to being part of any genuine effort which will see the institutions put back in place. But the one outstanding issue to be resolved remains the DUP attitude to power sharing.”
“We want to see the power-sharing institutions restored before November 24th and we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that the opportunities opened up last year are not squandered.
“It is still possible to make progress in the coming period but it will only happen if the Irish and British governments play a decisive role.
“It is their responsibility to see major progress made in the time ahead and we need to see an intensification of efforts if that is to happen.”