The Pope prays for end to Ulster conflict

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The Independent Online
The Pope yesterday urged all sides in Northern Ireland to look to a brighter future. "Nothing is lost through peace, but everything can be lost through violence," he told Irish pilgrims in Rome just hours before going into hospital to face his sixth surgical operation in 15 years.

Amid fearsomely tight security, the 76-year-old pontiff was taken from the Vatican to the nearby Gemelli hospital. He is due to be operated on Tuesday and is expected to be back in his own apartments within a week. According to official bulletins, the Pope will have his appendix removed. However, given his history of intestinal trouble since the shooting that almost killed him in 1981, few Vaticanologists or medical experts believe the problem is simple appendicitis.

In a fresh plea for an end to the differences, Pope John Paul said: "Let us all pray that the Irish people will put tension and conflict behind them and go on to build a brighter and more serene future for the future generation."

Yesterday, hours after the John Major admitted that the peace process was bogged down, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Dr Robin Eames warned that time was running out for the politicians.

Tomorrow a Progressive Unionist Party delegation is expected to meet loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force prisoners at the Maze to discuss the future of the peace process. Paramilitaries from the Protestant Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters at the jail have already withdrawn their support because of the lack of progress and the failure of Sinn Fein and the IRA to commit themselves to non-violence.

With the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, and the Irish foreign minister, Dick Spring, at the United States economic conference on Northern Ireland in Pittsburg, no significant political movement is likely this week. But growing unease among the loyalist paramilitaries which threatens their own two-year truce is causing increasing anxiety.

The talks at Stormont also risk being brought to a halt by Ulster Unionist demands for a start to IRA disarmament before Sinn Fein can enter substantive negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland and their objections to proposals on how handle the issue of weapons decommissioning.

Archbishop Eames said a restoration of the IRA ceasefire would be the single most important step towards the building of trust. He said on BBC Radio Ulster: "I am aware and as conscious as anyone of the difficulties and problems individuals are facing, but I have to say time is not on our side."

Mr Major had a brief informal discussion with the Irish Prime Minister John Bruton on the fringes of an European Union meeting in Dublin yesterday where both men urged the Ulster parties to move from their entrenched positions. The Prime Minister said of the peace process: "It has got bogged down, yes. But because it is bogged down for a period does not mean it is dead. Progress has not been as remotely as rapid as we would have liked. I am a veteran of being told the peace process is dead. I don't believe it."