Departing Mitchell offers new road of hope

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The Independent Online

Former US Senator George Mitchell was taking his leave of Stormont today in the strong hope he has put Northern Ireland's politicians irreversibly on the road to a new power-sharing government.

Former US Senator George Mitchell was taking his leave of Stormont today in the strong hope he has put Northern Ireland's politicians irreversibly on the road to a new power-sharing government.

Senator Mitchell was presenting his final report on the 10-week review of the Good Friday Agreement aimed at ironing out problems over devolution and decommissioning.

The Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein have already made bridge-building statements edging toward a delicate, step-by-step deal to achieve the transfer of legislative power from London to Belfast.

The IRA has also pledged to appoint a go-between to discuss getting rid of terrorist weapons with the independent decommissioning body headed by General John de Chastelain.

A Stormont insider said the parties would also be saying positive things, praising each other's efforts to cement the peace process.

"But there will be no fanfare statement endorsing everything at this stage," he said. "It is still very much an inch-by-inch, trust-building process."

Neither UUP leader David Trimble nor Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has publicly stated they have signed up to any deal, but it is accepted they have agreed a complex, inter-locking formula.

It is hoped this will allow the formation of the new Stormont cabinet and the start of a decommissioning process in the coming weeks.

Senior Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey said the IRA statement, which also backed the Good Friday Agreement and the Sinn Fein leadership, could pave the way for an inclusive executive.

But Mr Trimble faces tough battle and could risk his position and a party split, with dissidents opposed to what they see as softening the "no guns no government" stance.

The UUP executive officers are expected to get together in the next day or so and call a meeting of the party's 900-strong ruling council, possibly in Belfast on Saturday week.

A majority of the council would have to approve any change in party policy if it was judged the arrangements with Sinn Fein required such a move.

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