Tony Blair is due toappeal to Sinn Fein today to secure further acts of IRA decommissioning after what his officials described as a surprisingly positive meeting with the Rev Ian Paisley yesterday.
Although government sources played down the prospect of an immediate revival of the stalled Northern Ireland peace process, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) described his talks at Downing Street as "extremely useful". He said there were no issues his party was not prepared to discuss after overtaking David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party in last month's elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
He reiterated the DUP's refusal to sit in government with Sinn Fein while it was "inextricably tied up with paramilitarism". After a 50-minute Downing Street meeting with Mr Blair, their first talks for a year, Mr Paisley said: "There will never be any conditions when we will sit in government with any body of people, loyalist or nationalist, who have an army, and that army is being used against democracy."
Peter Robinson, the DUP's deputy leader, said the party wanted to work with the Government. He said: "We're not in the business of planning for failure. We are planning for success. We have proposals that we believe can provide stable and lasting government for Northern Ireland and a peaceful future."
Mr Blair's official spokesman said after the meeting: "What today was about was beginning a conversation in more detail about what their [the DUP's] assessment is post-election and how they see the way forward. They have said in public they want to be positive. We want to explore what that means in detail."
Mr Blair and Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, are due to meet leaders of other parties in Northern Ireland today, including Sinn Fein, in Downing Street.Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, stressed yesterday the "need to see the Good Friday Agreement implemented and implemented in full".