`Historic' offer lifts peace hopes

A DRAMATIC and possibly historic offer of arms decommissioning from Sinn Fein last night breathed life into the Northern Ireland peace talks and propelled them through the midnight deadline.

The negotiations went on into the early hours. Although some of the exact terms are not known, it is understood to offer a Republican commitment to total IRA disarmament by May of next year, provided that the formation of a new executive body took place immediately.

According to reliable sources Sinn Fein has offered a "credible and certifiable" process of decommissioning. This would take place in a number of stages, with fail-safe mechanisms put in place to ensure each phase was completed as promised.

Early this morning Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble was said to be asking for an IRA, as opposed to Sinn Fein, endorsement of these terms, and arguing that under any such deal a fully-functioning executive would not immediately be formed.

During the evening it was announced that the long-awaited report on decommissioning, by the Canadian General John de Chastelain, was expected to be delivered to the parties at midnight. The midnight deadline passed without signs of a deal or confirmation that the report had been delivered.

It was also learnt that the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, had taken the unprecedented step of asking to address all 30 members of the Ulster Unionist assembly team.

Mr Trimble was said to have indicated in the talks that he could live with only a two-week delay in arms decommissioning and not the six months offer. Mr Trimble was also reported to be holding out for firmer guarantees of sanctions against the republicans, including their expulsion from a new executive if the promises they made were not met. The offer from Sinn Fein apparently took the Unionists by surprise and delighted both the British and Irish governments, with Dublin sources describing it as a historic development on the part of the republican movement.

The IRA and Sinn Fein have for years expressed almost absolute opposition to decommissioning, which means that the proffered deal represents a radical repositioning for the republicans.

Last night Mr Trimble appeared to be in the business of firming up the offer and of stitching in a number of guaranteed penalties in the event of its non-delivery.

One source inside the talks said: "We are in the realms of certainty and sanctions."

Mr Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, had been locked in talks all day as they sought a compromise to reconcile the positions of the two sides.

The see-sawing fortunes of the negotiation were described by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, who told the Commons during the afternoon: "At lunchtime we were feeling positive. By the time I left to come here an hour later, people were getting worried again. It goes up and down."

Mr Trimble had emerged from the talks just before 11pm last night to speak to reporters. He said he had received no "concrete proposals" from other parties on breaking the deadlock over arms disarmament. He said Sinn Fein had not offered anything which allowed for progress to be made.

He said that while there were press reports about decommissioning proposals and timetables he had been offered "no such precise undertaking". Suggestions that a executive could be formed and decommissioning start three to six months later were "simply not in the real world", he said.

"We came here in the hope that progress could be achieved, we came here in the hope that there would be significant movement by the republican movement to enable us to move forward together," he said. "Until Sinn Fein stands here and tells the people what it is prepared to do, what am I to respond to?"

A few minutes earlier, Mr Adams had told reporters that the Good Friday peace accord could collapse unless agreement between Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists was reached over the arms issue and the setting up of a power-sharing executive.

"Prior decommissioning is not achievable," he said. "It is whether we move forward, based on jumping together into the future or go lurching back into the past. Our commitment is to move forward. We think it can be done but people need to take their courage in their hands."

Mr Blair last night brought President Bill Clinton up-to-date on the negotiations over a 15-minute telephone conversation. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Blair would keep the President briefed through the evening and night and they would decide at some stage if it was appropriate for Mr Clinton to become engaged in the dialogue.

Mr Clinton spoke to reporters in Chicago: " I will do whatever I can to be helpful," he said. "I'm hoping for the best. If anybody fails to fulfil any condition, including the decommissioning, at any time in the future by the appropriate deadline it can always be taken down, but it shouldn't be taken down in the absence of a failure to fulfil the conditions."

The talks continued against the ominous backdrop of a police warning that loyalist extremists are intent on using violence after the authorities banned next Sunday's Drumcree Orange Order march in Portadown.

The RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said: "We have intelligence to indicate that some people, a small minority, would intend to use these events to be engaged in violence.

"We are prepared for that contingency. We have that intelligence and we will be acting upon that intelligence. I think there are dissident so-called loyalists who would intend to use the forthcoming event as some sort of cover for them to be involved in violence. That's something we are alive to and we will be doing everything we can to thwart it."

He went on to urge Orange Order leaders to take into account their responsibilities for bringing large numbers of people on to the streets if it was predictable that some would exploit this and use violence.

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
News
peopleEnglishman managed the quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

£65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape