Trimble offers a glimmer of hope

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The Independent Online
A few days short of the first anniversary of the glacially slow multi- party talks in Belfast, a move by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has awakened hopes that the talks might get down to serious business.

Mr Trimble spoke of "pigeon-holing" the contentious issue of arms de- commissioning which has effectively stalled the talks for the last year. This might open the door for substantive negotiations.

To date the talks have remained stuck on procedural issues, most notably how and when the de-commissioning issue might be dealt with. The lack of agreement on this key point has meant that after a year there is still no agreed agenda for the discussions.

Mr Trimble, who last week returned from a conference where South African negotiators outlined how they had circumvented such issues, said that if the talks process was moving forward then the arms issue could be set aside for the moment.

If, however, a renewed IRA ceasefire brought about the possibility of Sinn Fein entry into talks the de-commissioning issue would then be revived and dealt with at that stage.

He declared: "If we are sure the train is moving without them [Sinn Fein], de-commissioning is not so pressing and the issue could then be pigeon- holed until such time as it becomes a real issue again."

The proposal brought a dusty response from Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's president, who said that Mr Trimble could not be given a veto over how talks functioned or who participated in them.

The Rev Ian Paisley, of the Democratic Unionists, was also critical, saying that the issue was vital and could not be pigeon-holed.