Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the party Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness have held what is expected to be their last talks with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the House of Commons.
With Mr Blair expected to leave office within weeks, Mr Adams acknowledged the role played by Mr Blair in the peace process and pledged to work with the next British Prime Minister in making further progress on the peace dividend, the truth around collusion and Irish reunification.
Mr Adams said that they had reviewed the overall political situation and the need to make progress on other issues, not least the financial package underwriting the new devolved Executive and Assembly at Stormont.
The meeting came “at a time when the political institutions in the north are beginning to bed down,” Mr Adams said.
“We have all played a part in bringing us to this point. It is now vital that the politicians in the Executive, Assembly and all-Ireland Ministerial Council have the necessary resources to deliver positive change for all of the people. That means a significant financial package. It means the British Exchequer stepping up to the mark.”
Current British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, is expected to advance to the leadership position upon Blair’s departure.
Northern Secretary Peter Hain is currently campaigning for the post of deputy leader of the British Labour Party.
Hain criticised former British prime minister John Major for mishandling the peace process, leading to the breakdown of the first IRA cessation in 1996. He said Major’s government had failed to interpret the republican position.
In a speech to an invited audience in London, Mr Hain said an Irish-style peace process is needed in Iraq to bring together Sunni and Shia leaders and undermine “extremists”.
While there were fundamental differences between the situations in the two countries, strong principles were learned during the peace process that could apply in Iraq, Hain argued.
“Like in Northern Ireland, we and the government of Iraq have been keen to harness the influence of neighbouring powers, each of whom has an interest in the future stability of Iraq,” he said.
SALMOND HAILS CHANGE
Meanwhile, Scottish National Party Alex Salmond, in a historic address to the Belfast Assembly said “seismic” political change was taking place in both Ireland and Scotland.
The entry of his party to devolved government in Scotland, he said, and the first defeat of Labour in an election there in 50 years, were hugely significant.
“I want to put that in context. What we have not witnessed is the temporary elevation of one party over another,” he said.
“It is not just the exchange of one politician for another. The change is seismic and vital, creating a new culture of government where no single party dominates.”
Mr Salmond, who later met nationalist and unionist leaders, said the Belfast Assembly and the Edinburgh Parliament shared a political model based on compromise.
“I do not stand before you as First Minister of an independent Scotland - that might wait for another day, perhaps,” he said.
“But, Mr Speaker, I do stand before this Assembly as a Scottish First Minister determined to maximise every opportunity to promote the Scottish National interest.
“For me and for Scotland an essential part of that strategy revolves around re-energising our external relationships - relationships which have for too long been seen solely through the prism of Westminster Government.
“That, Mr Speaker, starts today.”