The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, said the ball was in the IRA's court but damped hopes that Sinn Fein could be admitted by 3 June, when all-party talks are to resume in Belfast. Unless there is a shift by the IRA, the talks will resume without Sinn Fein, in spite of the election of two Sinn Fein MPs - Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness - in last week's election.
David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, who met Mr Blair 24 hours earlier, said there could be a "tactical manoeuvre" by the IRA in the hope of catching the two governments off-balance but there would not be a genuine cessation of violence.
Ms Mowlam, emerging from the Blair-Bruton talks in Downing Street, said: "The ball is in their [the IRA's] court. I am not sure 3 June is a possibility." She said both leaders agreed about the need for Sinn Fein to be in the talks "but for that to happen there has to be a ceasefire and there has to be a greater commitment in word and deed than we have seen in the past because of the atrocities we have experienced. It is the quality of the ceasefire that matters ... The ball is in Sinn Fein's court. It is for them and the IRA to show us it is a quality ceasefire. What matters is ... commitment."
Ms Mowlam announced yesterday that the notice required for parades in Northern Ireland had been extended from seven to 21 days and police may confiscate alcohol at parades.
Mr Bruton, welcoming the fresh approach by Ms Mowlam and Mr Blair, said: "There was an immediate indication of a positive willingness to engage. That was most heartening and give positive hope to people in Northern Ireland."
There were hopes that their first meeting could breathe new life into the stalled peace process in Northern Ireland amid increased speculation that a renewed IRA ceasefire may be declared. Downing Street had spent 24 hours damping down expectations of a breakthrough.