Ahern and Blair move to end stalemate

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR and Bertie Ahern will make renewed efforts today to unlock the stalemate in the Northern Ireland peace process after Irish hopes of a symbolic IRA decommissioning gesture appeared to have been dashed.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he could not confirm Dublin reports attributed to security sources that a meeting of up to 70 senior IRA members in Cavan last Saturday had cleared the way for members to approve a symbolic destruction of Semtex explosive to overcome Unionist conditions blocking Sinn Fein's entry into a Northern Ireland executive and a role in cross-border bodies.

Mr Ahern said "I believe there was a meeting somewhere over the weekend but I have no information on what the conclusion of that was. I'm an enormous optimistic but I've nothing to make me optimistic at the moment."

He said last week's breakdown of the arrangements over cross-border implementation bodies meant "we have lost about two months, and we haven't moved an inch in four weeks." Mr Ahern will discuss the continuing impasse with Mr Blair at the European Council meeting in Vienna on Friday and Saturday.

In London Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader John Taylor declared parties were "within an ace" of agreement on a Northern Ireland Executive and cross-border bodies after meeting Tony Blair. He said an Executive deal would exclude Sinn Fein unless there was IRA decommissioning first.

Before meeting the Taoiseach, deputy first minister Seamus Mallon urged Mr Taylor to act, if as claimed, he had been delegated the job of negotiating by UUP leader and first minister David Trimble. Mr Ahern and Irish Government officials met Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator at Stormont and its liaison officer with the de Chastelain decommissioning body.

Mr McGuinness insisted Sinn Fein had "fulfilled to the letter" all its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Ahern said he was more optimistic of progress on identifying burial places of IRA victims than on decommissioning. Republican sources have strongly denied reports of an imminent arms disposal gesture.

A 42 year-old man was still being questioned last night by detectives in Dundalk following the discovery of an assault rifle, a recently-fired semi-automatic pistol, three timer power units and other bomb parts in a house in the border town on Monday.

Gardai in Limerick appealed for information after plastic bags containing 3,000 rounds of ammunition for high-powered rifles were discovered at a roadside near the city.