Blair set to step up IRA arms pressure

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR will this week seek to infuse the mundanities of Belfast politics with the spirit of the Nobel peace prize in an effort to settle the long-running issue of IRA arms decommissioning.

The Prime Minister hopes that meetings today with Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, and the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble - who was last week awarded the Nobel prize with the Social Democratic and Labour Party leader, John Hume - will kickstart a new drive to clear what is a crucial hurdle.

As so often during the peace process, the guns issue has recently been slowing down progress towards setting up an executive which will run the new Northern Ireland administration. Mr Trimble is adamant that republicans cannot be allowed to take part without decommissioning; Sinn Fein is equally insistent that the executive should be set up without delay and without the IRA giving up its weapons.

Today's meetings will be followed by another later in the week with Seamus Mallon, of the SDLP, who has been designated as deputy to Mr Trimble in the new executive. A Downing Street spokesman said yesterday: "The Prime Minister will be pressing the decommissioning issue and seeking to crack it."

Mr Blair believes the Nobel prizes present a golden opportunity to give the peace process another push forward. "We hope they will act as a spur," said one aide.

The dispute has already caused some slippage in the timetable for establishing the complex web of new administrative arrangements within Northern Ireland and between north and south. Although there is no real sense of political crisis, is has been clear for some time that an initiative from Mr Blair, probably in concert with Dublin and Washington, would be needed to clear this hurdle.

Mr Trimble is adamant that any movement must come from republicans and he hopes the Nobel award will encourage them. "What we are looking for crucially now is for the republican movement to start on its side of the bargain," he said. "All other aspects of the agreement are moving." He added that the more republicans delayed decommissioning, "the more difficulties they create for others".

Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, yesterday urged paramilitaries to "adopt a generous and forthcoming approach" on weapons and said it would be "perverse" if the issue was allowed to destroy the peace process.