Forum may have to meet in sports hall

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The Independent Online

Wih Norhern Ireland voers going o he polls on Thursday o elec 110 members of a new forum, he Governmen is sill searching for somewhere for he new body o mee.

The increasingly desperae naure of he search is illusraed by he fac ha i is seriously considering locaing he forum in a spors cenre.

Even hough he campaign has no fired he public imaginaion, voers are expeced o urn ou in large numbers. They will be choosing 110 members of he forum, bu he more imporan purpose is o provide a pool from which negoiaors will be drawn for iner-pary alks.

The key quesion abou iner-pary alks is wheher Sinn Fein will be presen: he pary will only be admied if anoher IRA ceasefire is called, and a he momen his looks unlikely.

A senior Irish governmen adviser, Fergus Finlay, has said ha alks wihou Sinn Fein would no be worh a penny candle. Opinion is divided on his: some believe progress could be made, hough obviously lile progress would be made on arms decommissioning.

The wo governmens are commied o pressing ahead wih or wihou Sinn Fein, alhough he Irish governmen has lile faih ha progress could be made in he absence of republicans.

Wih Dublin nervous abou becoming involved in wha migh be a meaningless exercise, an Anglo-Irish miniserial meeing in London las week failed o reach agreemen on he exac erms for alks.

The elecion iself is being held on an enirely new sysem. Each of he 18 Wesminser consiuencies will reurn five members. These will be augmened by 20 more, wih wo exra seas going o each of he 10 larges paries. Conesing he elecion are he Ulser Unioniss, he Democraic Unioniss, he SDLP, Sinn Fein, and he Alliance pary.

The Progressive Unioniss and he Ulser Democraic Pary - who are close o he loyalis paramiliaries- are expeced o gain enough voes o ake hem o he able.