Stormont parties mired in detail

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The Independent Online
THE multi-party talks at Stormont yesterday became bogged down in ancillary details threatening the Government's hopes of a dash for agreement by the Easter deadline.

Ulster Unionist moves to resurrect the vexed issue of paramilitary arms de-commissioning, and to concentrate on the question of possible IRA involvement in recent violence, meant that the focus was on security rather than on political matters.

The delay has placed into deeper question the Government's ambition of finding agreement among the parties for a new political settlement before Good Friday - 10 April.

The Unionist party yesterday came close to accusing the authorities of covering up IRA involvement in recent bombings and shootings. Ken Maginnis MP declared: "We believe that there is a dissembling of the facts and we really have to get to the bottom of this."

Party members last night met the RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan to hear his security assessment. Party members earlier claimed that Mr Flanagan had told Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that he believed the IRA was engaged in recent violence. Ms Mowlam, however, has indicated that she has received no such information from Mr Flanagan.

Security sources say that recent republican violence has been mostly the work of the breakaway Continuity Army Council. They add that Unionist politicians are wrong in their claims that the CAC operates with the consent of the IRA.

There have, however, been incidents in which at least some IRA members have been involved. A recent killing in Co Armagh is attributed by the authorities to "elements of the IRA", but they add that it is unclear whether the shooting was sanctioned by the IRA's leadership. There are further suspicions that a recent mortar attack, carried out by the CAC, may have been aided by "dissidents within the IRA".

The Unionist party's ambition appears to be to build a case against the IRA which would result in the expulsion of Sinn Fein from the talks process.

At the Unionist party's request, talks participants yesterday assembled for a plenary session which some sources described as tense. The party also appears to be in the business of demonstrating to its supporters that it is setting the agenda in the


Earlier, the Irish foreign minister David Andrews sought to calm growing unease among the grassroots of his Fianna Fail party over proposed changes to the Republic's territorial claim over Northern Ireland.

He said he believed alterations to Articles Two and Three of the Republic's constitution would be accepted as part of a peace settlement in Northern Ireland. Mr Andrews added: "Articles Two and Three have enormous and deep meaning to my party ... I think at the end of the day they will find an alternative amendment acceptable."