Seamus Mallon, giving vent to the frustration over months of delay, spoke after more than five hours of talks at Downing Street between Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern and the Ulster party leaders.
Crisis talks are to be reconvened early next week, but yesterday there was no sign of compromise by either Sinn Fein or the Ulster Unionistsover the refusal by Mr Trimble, the first minister in the new Assembly, to appoint an executive containing Mr Adams until the IRA starts decommissioning its arms.
Downing Street appeared to concede for the first time last night that the Hillsborough Declaration - agreed by Mr Blair and Mr Ahern - was now a dead letter. "Whether or not the Hillsborough Declaration is dead or alive is irrelevant, because the two issues at Hillsborough remain sequencing and choreography," said a Number 10 spokesman.
Mr Adams emerged from his session of talks with the two prime ministers still warning that the Good Friday Agreement was in "free fall", as he had done 24 hours earlier.
Mr Trimble and Mr Adams appeared to agree on only one thing - that they do not want to see the peace process "parked" until the autumn. The British and Irish governments are also against allowing a delay for six months but, as The Independent reported yesterday, it may become necessary, if no breakthrough is reached next week, to avoid the talks running into the marching season and the European elections.
Mr Mallon and John Hume, the leader of the SDLP, welcomed the readiness of the two governments to keep the momentum of the talks going to find a way through the difficulties, without calling a halt. Mr Mallon accused Mr Trimble and Mr Adams of trying to hold the peace process to ransom for their "absolutist" positions. "Neither of them own this agreement. This agreement belongs to the island of Ireland, north and south. It was agreed by all the parties and the two governments.
"The people of Ireland have no intention of allowing this agreement to go by default, nor do we have any intention of allowing it to be destroyed by decommissioning. This agreement has been held to ransom by two absolute demands. There is no stomach left to destroy it. We are not going to allow it to crash."
Andrew Mackay, the Tory spokesman on Northern Ireland, urged the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach to proceed without Sinn Fein, but that course of action - although supported yesterday in the Irish Times - was rejected by the SDLP. Mr Hume said it was an "inclusive" agreement, and to exclude Sinn Fein would be a "great mistake".
Mr Ahern said he did not believe the agreement had reached "free fall" but the two governments had not been able to find a way around the problem. The Irish Government was also against "parking" the agreement. All the parties wanted the dispute concluded in the next few weeks, he said.Reuse content