Nationalists defy Trimble's attempt to ban cross-border meeting

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The Independent Online

Sinn Fein and SDLP ministers yesterday went to meet their Southern Irish counterparts in defiance of the First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, who has tried to ban such encounters.

Sinn Fein and SDLP ministers yesterday went to meet their Southern Irish counterparts in defiance of the First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, who has tried to ban such encounters.

The ministers from both sides of the border discussed food safety, as differences remained between Nationalists and Unionists over the issue of IRA arms decommissioning.

Those who took part in the meeting made the point that they were concerned not just with health practicalities, but also with demonstrating that Mr Trimble lacked the power to halt such get-togethers.

Mr Trimble's deputy, Seamus Mallon, of the Nationalist SDLP, travelled to the meeting in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, specifically to make the point that North-South contacts would continue. He pointedly suggested that the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, should intervene to over rule attempts by the Unionist party to prevent such meetings.

Ireland's health minister, Michael Martin, said: "This is very much about all parties acknowledging the importance of keeping the integrity of the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement."

The meeting took place against the news that a bomb that left an RUC officer critically injured earlier this week was the work, not of Republicans as had been assumed, but of Loyalist extremists.

The device exploded inside a traffic cone the officer was moving, causing him to lose a leg. Forensic examination showed it was similar to devices previously used by Loyalists. The theory is that a small local Protestant extremist group launched the attack on police for reasons not yet known.

Former US Senator George Mitchell, in Belfast yesterday, said he believed the problems of the peace process could be overcome, appealing to Unionists and Nationalists not to lose sight of their achievements.

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