Blair brings Adams in from the cold

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR yesterday announced that he is prepared to meet Gerry Adams next week, following the expiry of Sinn Fein's period of exclusion from the multi-party talks.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said, however, that the meeting was not expected to take place before the second half of next week. This may create timetabling problems in that Mr Adams is due to fly out to the US on Wednesday for St Patrick's Day activities.

Sinn Fein was temporarily barred from the talks after the British and Irish governments concluded that the IRA had been involved in two Belfast killings. They will be allowed to re-enter on Monday next, but Sinn Fein sources have made it clear they do not intend to go back until after the prime ministerial meeting.

Mr Blair is also to see Social Democratic and Labour Party leader John Hume.

Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis yesterday described the decision to hold any meeting with Sinn Fein as foolish, while the Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, accused the Prime Minister of acting in "obscene haste" and of "dancing to Gerry Adams' tune".

And efforts to move the peace process along continued yesterday with a telephone call between Mr Blair and Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, politicians of all parties pondered the intriguing results of the largest opinion survey ever carried out in Ulster, which among other things produced strong evidence that nationalists may not insist on a united Ireland in the short term. The poll was carried out for BBC Northern Ireland television's respected political programme, Hearts and Minds.

Ninety per cent of SDLP supporters, and half of Sinn Fein supporters, said they would accept an outcome from the present talks which fell short of a united Ireland. This will be of keen interest to the Government in a process where success will depend on a willingness to compromise.

A less encouraging finding, however, was the opinion of no fewer than 82 per cent that violence from groups who are not on ceasefire, such as the INLA and LVF, "could derail the whole process". Another pessimistic finding was that 87 per cent thought the parties would not come to an agreed settlement by the target date of May.

A narrow majority of Unionists believed Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble should now talk directly to Sinn Fein. The poll indicated that nationalists have appreciably more confidence in Mr Hume and Mr Adams than Unionists have in Mr Trimble and Mr Paisley. The highest ratings went to Mr Hume and David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist party.

t A fourth man was arrested yesterday in connection with Tuesday night's killings of two men, a Protestant and a Catholic, in the Co Armagh village of Poyntzpass. Three others arrested on Wednesday were last night still in RUC custody.