Mowlam seeks talks progress

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Indy Politics
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, yesterday used her first Commons question session as a minister to try to invest new momentum into both her contacts with republicans and the multi-party talks.

She signalled to Sinn Fein that she would sanction one more clarificatory meeting between her officials and republicans, and would not be drawn into a protracted process of such contacts. She declared: "Another meeting is likely but that will be it." At the same time, however, she made what will be seen as a response to the republican request for a time-frame for the multi-party talks.

In what seems a highly ambitious time-scale, she indicated that she hoped political negotiations could be completed, and confirmed by a referendum, by May of next year. Such a timetable would clearly involve a transformation in both the pace and level of agreement of the multi-party talks, which in their first year have not even produced an agenda.

The Northern Ireland Secretary also said she hoped the participants in talks could settle the contentious issue of the decommissioning of illegal weapons "in the next couple of weeks", and then move on substantive negotiations in September.

These projections mean that the next few weeks could be crucial to making progress. Ms Mowlam appeared to say to republicans that only one more meeting is on offer before the Government reverts to the position that it will not meet republicans directly.

It could also be make-or-break time for the talks, with an intensive period of activity which will either resolve the decommissioning issue or, at worst, herald a partial breakdown.