Hope for deal in Ulster talks

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The Independent Online

By David Mckittrick, Ireland Correspondent

By David Mckittrick, Ireland Correspondent

31 October 1999

THE PROTRACTED Northern Ireland peace process talks yesterday seemed likely to stretch into next week as republicans and Unionists remained locked in negotiations under the chairmanship of former US Senator George Mitchell.

The Stormont talks, which were originally scheduled to wind up more than a week ago, were going on in what was said to be a cordial and serious atmosphere. The signs were that the two sides were engaging in direct and frank negotiations centring on arms decommissioning and the creation of a new devolved government.

Both have largely refrained from briefing the media on the substance of the talks, though there were complaints earlier this week that some details had been leaked, allegedly by a Unionist source. This led to some recriminations, though yesterday it was said the parties had put that issue behind them.

Since Senator Mitchell has made it plain that he would like to keep the present phase of talks as short as possible, the supposition is that he must believe real progress is on the cards.

Another potentially significant straw in the wind is that Unionists are saying that "some pain" may be unavoidable if the process is to be concluded successfully. This indication was apparently given by Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, when he briefed his party executive on Friday.

The phrase was repeated yesterday by the Unionist negotiator Michael McGimpsey, when he admitted a deal could contain elements that would be difficult for Unionism to swallow, but added it was important to focus on the benefits it could bring. He went on: "Obviously, there will be a degree of some pain but we are focusing on the outcome, which is the big issue."

His fellow-negotiator Sir Reg Empey added: "We fully understand that the question of disarmament is a huge issue for the republican movement and it's a very difficult one for them. But we have to continue with these negotiations as it is the only way we can see of achieving the establishment of accountable democracy in Northern Ireland, in a circumstance where there is a real, permanent and unbreakable peace."

Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said: "People are working hard to try and achieve agreement. We've achieved a cordial atmosphere and, I believe, a greater understanding of each other's positions. However, we have to achieve agreement and we have to see established as a matter of urgency institutions which we negotiated, sooner rather than later."