Mowlam positive on Ulster talks

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The Independent Online
HERALDING a historic breakthrough in the Stormont multi-party talks, Northern Ireland Secretary Dr Mo Mowlam yesterday announced that because so much progress had been made the final deadline had been advanced to today.

She then collapsed in a fit of giggles as reporters gaped in incredulous silence before they realised that this was an April fool joke and joined in the laughter.

The surrealistic moment provided some relief from the steadily intensifying discussions, which Dr Mowlam characterised as tough but positive in the lead up to the 9 April talks deadline. She remained determinedly optimistic, declaring: "I believe we are going to get there."

At intervals during the day, various participants emerged from the talks' building to deliver media soundbites, evidently designed primarily to assure their supporters that they were in the process of driving the hardest possible deal.

The most effective early soundbite of the day came from Ulster Unionist party deputy leader John Taylor, who declared the talks deadlocked, announcing that there could be no real negotiations on other issues until Dublin showed that it was serious on the issue of amending articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution.

Dublin responded sharply, with junior foreign affairs minister, Liz O'Donnell, describing Mr Taylor's comments as "particularly unhelpful at this late stage in the negotiations".

Saying he was attempting to extract one aspect and make it a pre-condition over other aspects of the negotiations, she added: "That is not the way we are going to resolve our differences. I really do think it is politically immature at this stage to talk about deadlock."

Later SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon said the shape of agreement envisaged by some was not balanced as far as nationalists were concerned, warning that final agreement would be very difficult to reach unless nationalist aspirations were satisfied.

l Tony Blair last night held a working dinner with Irish premier Bertie Ahern at Downing Street in an attempt to narrow the gap between the parties over the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Blair was seeking to reach a compromise over the cross-border "implementation" bodies which are being resisted by the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, who met Mr Blair at the weekend.

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