Mowlam's getaway for party leaders
Wednesday 04 February 1998
More progress could be made if the various party leaders were to sit down with each other miles away from the nearest television camera, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland believes.
The Dayton, Ohio, peace talks which brought the warring factions together over Bosnia could become a model for the multi-party negotiations on a lasting peace settlement for Northern Ireland.
The parties were taken to an airbase in Ohio in 1995 to reach a settlement, and Mo Mowlam believes that something similar could be good for the multi- party talks on Ulster. But the problem is where should she take them to get away from the press?
Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, has suggested they should hold the final round of talks in a neutral country, such as Finland or Austria. Norway has also been suggested. "He is keen on the possibility of moving somewhere else for the final session when you get down to real negotiations," said a Dublin source. "There is a feeling around that if you lock them up in the same room, you can make progress."
Ms Mowlam became convinced during the three days when the talks switched to London that the press was becoming one of the obstacles to making progress towards agreement between the parties. The Social Democratic and Labour Party delegation also complained that the press were becoming part of the problem.
In the privacy of the negotiating room at Lancaster House, the party leaders dropped their public animosity and got down to business.
But after every session, each of the parties would brief the press against the others at the talks. The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, claimed that Ken Maginnis, a member of Mr Trimble's Ulster Unionist team, had refused to speak to him, saying: "I don't speak to murderers."
Ms Mowlam felt that the talks had gone well, but the impression in much of the live television coverage was that they were going badly. She has privately felt exasperated at the "bandstanding" of the parties for the benefit of the cameras.
The talks are due to reconvene in a fortnight in Dublin. Ms Mowlam has joked about hosting the final talks on an island in the Arctic but that would not stop the Ulster leaders posturing to the polar bears.
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