Ireland: When Thursday comes

THURSDAY 9 April, the day the Commons rises for the Easter recess, is the deadline for the conclusion to the Northern Ireland peace process. When the talking stops, there must be an agreement covering four critical areas:

n Setting up an assembly of 90 elected members to run Northern Ireland affairs, within the constitutional framework of the United Kingdom.

n The so-called North-South dimension, bringing the Irish Republic and Ulster together through cross-border bodies with defined but limited powers

n The East-West relationship, bringing together Dublin, Britain and Northern Ireland into a consultative Council of the Isles, inclusive of the Scottish and Welsh assemblies.

n Changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution which lay claim to Northern Ireland to be party of the republic.

If a "historic compromise" can be reached, it will be put to separate referendums of the people north and south of the border on 22 May. It must then by approved by the British and Irish parliaments.

The talks have been going on, with long gaps, for more than two years, since John Major and Albert Reynolds produced the Downing Street declaration. Tony Blair has taken up where his predecessor left off, injecting a new note of urgency with his "settlement train is leaving" speech soon after taking office.

But the main talks are going on in Belfast, where the Ulster Unionists led by David Trimble, John Hume's nationalist SDLP and Sinn Fein are locked in negotiations on a draft settlement being "synthesised" by the talks chairman, former US Senator George Mitchell. He failed to meet his own deadline of Friday night to produce a constitutional blueprint for the future of the province, but hopes to do shortly.

Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's president, accepted that a paper would be tabled and promised "then we will knuckle down and get into negotiations". Republicans insist they must be party to any peace deal, but the rules of the talks process allow for an agreement between the two major parties to go before the people. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party has remained outside the talks, oblivious to the pleas of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam.

The biggest sticking points are the scope and powers of a north-south ministerial council through which Dublin and Belfast can co-operate in future. Mr Mitchell is believed to have recommended at least six implementation bodies, which might have executive powers. The Unionists would oppose such powers, but the Irish government insists that the bodies have real clout.

Another problem is the reluctance of the Irish government so far to spell out how it will abolish the republic's claim to the six counties of Northern Ireland.

But progress has been made on the setting up of an elected assembly to replace the Unionist-dominated Stormont parliament, abolished when direct rule from London was introduced more than 20 years ago. Mr Mitchell is understood to favour an amalgam of Mr Hume's ideas for a power-sharing executive, plus a system of committees favoured by the Ulster Unionists. This is acceptable to the main parties.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

£12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence