Blair holds out hope Trimble may make a return

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The Independent Online

David Trimble is due to resign tonight as Northern Ireland's First Minister, ushering in a tense month-long rescue operation aimed at preserving the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

The Government's hope is that four weeks of negotiations will produce the IRA movement on weapons decommissioning that is needed to prevent the Agreement's institutions being suspended or subjected to a potentially polarising general election.

The RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said yesterday he had no intelligence that pointed towards a republican intention to decommission. He admitted the security forces might not know of such moves in advance.

Although Tony Blair believes Mr Trimble's resignation is inevitable this weekend, he hopes that he may yet be re-elected as First Minister in the next six weeks after a new move by the IRA to decommission its arms. A government source in London said: "Just because he resigns does not mean that he cannot come back."

The British and Irish governments will push to make progress on arms in the next two weeks. Talks will take place in Belfast between John Reid, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Brian Cowen, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs. Mr Blair will be in regular contact with Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister.

Downing Street said yesterday that the talks between the two prime ministers on Thursday had been "useful."

Meanwhile, Sir Ronnie said that violence at Drumcree and other disputed Orange Order parades could be avoided if sense prevailed. Police and troops are preparing for potential trouble at a parade close to the Belfast peaceline today.

But the biggest threat will come a week on Sunday when thousands of Orangemen and their supporters gather at Drumcree for a planned march, which is likely to be banned, on the nationalist Garvaghy Road, Portadown, Co Armagh.

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