Peace mission for Mandelson's first Dublin visit

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New Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson made his first official visit to Dublin today to assess the prospect of salvaging 'the only show in town' - the Ulster peace process.

New Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson made his first official visit to Dublin today to assess the prospect of salvaging 'the only show in town' - the Ulster peace process.

Mr Mandelson had talks with Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews and his deputy Liz O'Donnell, and also paid a courtesy call on premier Bertie Ahern.

The Secretary of State - arriving in the Irish capital just a week after succeeding Mo Mowlam in the Belfast post - immediately insisted: 'There is no alternative to the Northern Ireland agreement.

'I am telling you as a fact, it is the only show in town.'

Welcoming Mr Mandelson, Mr Andrews pointed to the warm relationship developed over the search for peace between the British and Irish governments, declaring: 'We must pay tribute to Mo Mowlam for that.'

Mr Mandelson pledged that the relationship would continue at the same level because of its importance. 'It will go on regardless. It is a staple of the situation and I am certainly going to carry on the very good work of my predecessor.

'Mo Mowlam has been tremendous in what she has done, and I will be following closely in her footsteps.'

Mr Andrews offered a strongly optimistic view of the chances of success of the on-going review of last year's Good Friday Agreement, chaired by former United States senator George Mitchell and involving all of the pro-deal Northern Ireland political parties.

He said: 'We have the greatest of faith in Senator Mitchell. He has an immense track record, and we would be very optimistic indeed about the outcome of the review in London.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said he also remained hopeful about what would emerge from the Mitchell review.He insisted again, though, that there was no 'plan B' to fall back on if the Good Friday accord did not work.

'It settles the full constitutional questions and issues once and for all in all respects. It provides the basis for an unbreakable peace in Ireland.

'That is what we are looking to do. I am just sorry that for one reason or another it has just not been possible to implement the agreement in full.

'But that possibility remains within our grasp. Every community wants it. Politicians must listen to the people and get on and come together and generate that necessary trust between them to take it forward.'

Other items on the agenda for the talks at the central Dublin headquarters of Irelandÿs Foreign Affairs department included the Patten report on the future of policing in Northern Ireland, Dublin government concerns about the 1997 murder of Robert Hamill - allegedly observed by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary - in Portadown, Co Armagh, and developments surrounding the same townÿs Protestant Orange Order march through the nationalist Drumcree district.

Before going to the foreign ministry, Mr Mandelson briefly met Mr Ahern for an exchange of views at Dublin's Government Buildings.

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