Parliament & Politics: Northern Ireland - Fresh talks will try to end the Ulster impasse

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR and Bertie Ahern will give another push to the peace process in Northern Ireland next week by holding cross-party talks in a fresh attempt to break the deadlock over the IRA's refusal to decommission its weapons.

Downing Street said last night that it was likely that the two Prime Ministers would host a fresh round of talks, probably in Belfast, after meeting the Province's minor parties in bilateral discussions which are due to be held this week in London and Dublin.

But there was deep scepticism about the prospects of reaching a breakthrough. "What is the point of holding more talks? What are we going to discuss?" said one Ulster party leader last night.

The Prime Minister briefed Mr Ahern yesterday on the talks that he had held with President Bill Clinton over the weekend during the Washington summit on Northern Ireland. Mr Clinton pledged to do all that he could to assist the search for a breakthrough in the deadlock, but the two leaders were agreed that there was little sign of any progress.

Privately, Mr Blair has told his colleagues that a way through the impasse could be found quite easily, if the two sides, Sinn Fein and the Unionists, were prepared to compromise. He still believes that the Hillsborough declaration remains the best way through the blockage, but that it is now virtually a dead letter with the main parties.

John Hume, the leader of the nationalist SDLP, has put forward a fresh initiative, suggesting that the Sinn Fein leaders, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, should be appointed to the assembly's executive, but that they could be removed if there was any return to violence by the IRA.