Mowlam aims for March deadline

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT was tonight engaged in a concerted drive to press the Northern Ireland political process forward towards devolution by early March.

Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, launched a round of talks with the political parties to discuss the legislation which will be introduced to enable the transfer of powers to the new Northern Ireland Assembly.

Tony Blair told the paramilitaries that they could do more than anyone to help change the climate of suspicion in the province - by decommissioning their arms. And as a sign of the changing times it was disclosed that a record number of Catholics were applying to join the RUC.

Ms Mowlam welcomed the trend. She said: "The Government is fully behind the efforts of the RUC and Police Authority to encourage applicants from the Catholic community. Northern Ireland needs a police service which is representative of the whole community."

But it will be the arms issue that could make or break the peace process. Tony Blair told the paramilitaries that if they started ridding themselves of their weapons of war it would do more to create confidence between the communities than any other single step.

However Sinn Fein maintained there was nothing in the Good Friday Agreement which forced the IRA to decommission before Sinn Fein could take office in the Northern Ireland Executive.

David Trimble's Ulster Unionists insisted there had to be decommissioning before they would consider Sinn Fein's entry to the Executive and the Democratic Unionist leader the Rev Ian Paisley vowed to fight the Government in the courts if it pressed ahead with plans to allow Sinn Fein a role in running Northern Ireland without prior IRA decommissioning.