Ahern and Trimble mend bridges

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The Independent Online
The Dublin government and the Ulster Unionists yesterday appeared to repair recent damage inflicted on their relationship with a cordial meeting at the multi-party talks at Stormont.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, also broke new ground during his visit to Belfast by becoming the first serving Irish Prime Minister to enter Belfast City Hall, once regarded by Catholics as a bastion of Unionist domination.

But the main focus of attention was the encounter between Mr Ahern and Mr Trimble at Stormont. The two politicians had a successful meeting several weeks ago, following which both sides indicated they believed they could do business together.

The developing relationship took a blow last week, however, when Unionists took strong exception to comments from Mr Ahern's recently-appointed foreign minister, David Andrews, who raised their hackles by saying that a proposed new cross-border body would have powers so wide that it would be "not unlike a government".

Mr Trimble said: "We had a discussion which was reasonably friendly but also fairly forthright. I think we agree that we put last week and the rather unfortunate remarks behind us." Mr Ahern commented: "People are clearly focusing now and getting in detail. Every single party has an air of confidence that we are moving in the right direction."

In one potentially ominous development, however, the sister of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands has gone public with a challenge to Sinn Fein's involvement in the peace process. Bernadette Sands McKevitt told RTE: "What is now on offer is more or less a modernised version of partition. So therefore we feel it is not actually a solution. I would be fearful for future generations. We want to raise the awareness of the public to the situation. At the moment it is early days."

She has helped establish the "32 County Sovereignty Committee" in the hope of attracting more dissidents from Sinn Fein. In her radio interview she strongly denied reports that she had been a senior member of the IRA.