Adams says yes to talks, but makes no promises

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The Government yesterday ended a long ban on contacts with Sinn Fein to set up "talks about talks" on the future of Northern Ireland.

Officials spoke on the telephone to republican representatives, as the Irish government also moved quickly to exploit Tony Blair's "one further effort" to bring peace to Ulster.

Irish government officials held talks with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams yesterday at a secret location in Dublin. Prime Minister John Bruton insisted that the meeting was solely to discuss the prospects of a new IRA ceasefire.

However, Mr Adams held out little hope of an end to terrorism. "We have neither the responsibility or the authority or the ability to negotiate a ceasefire," he said earlier.

Government officials are expected to hold their first face-to-face talks for many months with Sinn Fein leaders later this week, after Mr Adams responded positively to Mr Blair's offer of discussions, made during his visit to Belfast on Friday.

Returning from Dublin to Newry, Co Down, yesterday, Mr Adams welcomed the Prime Minister's decision to renew contacts. "I don't want to be churlish, because this is a sensitive and delicate job we are all about. We have to apply ourselves with due energy and in a measured way to that."

Mr Adams accused the Prime Minister of "a degree of crassness" in making a "pro-Unionist" speech in Belfast. "If the political will is there, then hopes can be realised. The Government has a huge majority. It doesn't have to pander to Unionism but ... Mr Blair did that."

In his Belfast speech, the Prime Minister declared: "I believe in the United Kingdom. I value the Union. My agenda is not a united Ireland."