Eleventh-hour deal saves talks

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The Independent Online
An eleventh-hour agreement in the early hours of yesterday morning averted the collapse of the Northern Ireland peace talks. The deal, though by no means unanimous, brought a sigh of relief from those who had feared the talks would run into the sand, following several days of deadlock and disagreement.

It came about when David Trimble's Ulster Unionists accepted former US Senator George Mitchell as chairman of plenary sessions. Mr Trimble's decision was welcomed by the British and Irish governments but furiously denounced by the other main Unionist leaders, the Rev Ian Paisley and Robert McCartney.

The breakthrough was achieved at a cost of slowing down the talks process, since one of the elements of the deal is that there is now to be a re- examination of Senator Mitchell's remit, the agenda and the procedural guidelines for the talks. This will occupy a full week, with the next plenary session scheduled for next Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Trimble's party, while accepting the former Senator as plenary chairman, is anxious to circumscribe the functions which the two governments had proposed to give him. They will also seek changes to the agenda. The UUP claimed the talks would probably have collapsed had it not been for its accommodation.

However, this interpretation was not endorsed by the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, who said Senator Mitchell's role had not been diminished.

Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley believed Mr Trimble might join his party in a united Unionist front on the issue, only to be left isolated on the issue. Yesterday he declared: "I never thought Ulster would be sold as it was, not by the British government but by Mr Trimble doing a dirty deal with the Irish government."

Mr Paisley's position is that while he will not attend plenaries chaired by Senator Mitchell, his party will attend meetings chaired by others.

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