Three days that shook and moved the peace process

THE NORTHERN Ireland office has had a rollercoaster week. Mo Mowlam's high-risk Maze visit ultimately proved successful, although the high media profile it received alarmed some NIO officials. That had been a desperate measure to keep the peace process on track. By yesterday, however, it looked as if it was not only on track, but moving into new terrain.

That was when the news broke of significant discussions between Downing Street and the Ulster Unionists about new proposals for the talks, including the concept of a "Council of the Isles" - linking Northern Ireland's putative devolved assembly with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, as well as Westminster and Dublin.

This particular commotion had been sparked by an article in the Times on Friday written by John Lloyd of the New Statesman who is close to New Labour and considered sympathetic by Unionists. Mr Lloyd outlined proposals being prepared as a paper by David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, which included the council of the isles and weaker north-south executive powers. Mr Trimble "has signalled its outlines in talks with the Prime Minister," he wrote.

The Daily Telegraph ran with the story, leading its front page yesterday with a report of the negotiations between Mr Blair and Mr Trimble. In Tokyo on Friday, Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's press secretary, had confirmed the story. He may have done this readily because Ulster provided a welcome alternative to stories about Robin Cook's extravagant love life, but by yesterday Downing Street sought to play it down. The new line was that this was only one of many options on the table.

For the NIO, it was a headache. The talks are at an extremely delicate stage, and nationalist politicians were angry at the way the news became public. In fact, the news is not so surprising. A council of the isles was first proposed by Unionists in the 1970s, when the shorthand was "Iona" - islands of the North Atlantic. David Trimble relaunched the idea in discussions with Blair after last May's election. The Irish government was already aware of its existence, because documents pass regularly between participants in the talks. But Irish officials do not recognise material presented in the British media as the way forward, and are less than delighted.

To Dublin, and most nationalists, the crucial thing is the place of any such initiative in the broader context of a settlement. The key focus is on "north-south" relationships spelt out first in the Joint Framework Document in 1995. The Unionists have made it clear that the proposals to give cross-border bodies executive powers are unacceptable. Mr Blair may be willing to assist by watering them down. But it will be a delicate balancing act if the nationalists and Dublin are to be kept on board.

At Westminster, meanwhile, the truce between Labour and Conservatives holds, although it is under stress. The Tories have criticised the Government's invitation to Gerry Adams to Downing Street, and Ms Mowlam's visit to the Maze prison. "We support the objectives of the process, but we reserve the right to criticise the handling of the process," said a party source.

Life and Style
Divers at Bouldnor Cliff underwater site in the Solent off the Isle of Wight, where the silt sample containing the einkorn DNA was found
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

    Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

    £14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

    Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower