Trimble meets top Catholic

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The Independent Online
The Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, yesterday met the leader of the Catholic church in Ireland in the run-up to his party's crucial decision on whether to take part in talks which will include Sinn Fein.

The two sides issued no statement after their meeting, in deference to the mourning period for Diana, Princess of Wales. It was the first time the heads of the party and the church have officially met.

No one was presenting the occasion as a breakthrough for the cause of ecumenism, but the fact that it took place at all may come to be viewed as an advance along the path of civilised discourse.

Mr Trimble and senior party members met Archbishop Sean Brady and other church representatives in the city of Armagh, the religious epicentre for both Irish Catholics and Protestants. The archbishop is seen as a much less political priest than either or his immediate predecessors, Dr Cahal Daly and Dr Tomas O Fiaich.

The meeting was one of a series in a consultation exercise undertaken by the Ulster Unionists in advance of the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland's future which open later this month. The party is divided on whether to take part in them, since the Government has formally confirmed that Sinn Fein will be there. An initial plenary session is to take place a week today, with talks proper due to open on 15 September.

Last week, two party MPs, William Thompson and William Ross, came out strongly against any participation in the talks. Mr Ross declared: "The view of many is that we should have nothing to do with these thugs."

These statements have stirred speculation that they represent a direct challenge to Mr Trimble's authority.