Blair sets June target to clinch Ulster deal

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has set a June deadline for the parties to break the political deadlock in Northern Ireland and issued a fresh plea for an end to paramilitary activity.

Tony Blair has set a June deadline for the parties to break the political deadlock in Northern Ireland and issued a fresh plea for an end to paramilitary activity.

With devolution to the province in limbo for almost 18 months, the Prime Minister began a fresh effort yesterday to resolve the impasse.

He started a four-day tour that will include visits to Madrid and Brussels by flying to Hillsborough Castle, Co Down, for talks with the parties jointly with the Taioseach, Bertie Ahern.

Mr Blair betrayed his frustration over the lack of progress since the political institutions were suspended in October 2002 following allegations of an IRA spy ring in Stormont.

He has abandoned his aim of reaching agreement by Easter, the sixth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, by setting a target of the European elections in June. "We cannot let this drift until the summer," he said. "We will continue to have informal discussions with the parties and when we can move into a more intensive engagement we will do so. There has got to be, on the one hand, an end ... to paramilitary activity and on the other hand, there has to be a willingness to share power across the community and across the political parties."

Mr Ahern said: "We need to fast-track the process and get the institutions up and running within a reasonable timeframe."

Northern Ireland's largest party, the Democratic Unionists, said after the Hillsborough meeting that the political process could not be put on hold until republicans came up to the mark.

The British and Irish governments have been under pressure to impose sanctions on Sinn Fein in negotiations on the Good Friday Agreement. Those demands were made after Northern Ireland's most senior policeman, Hugh Orde, blamed the IRA for the attempted abduction of the republican Bobby Tohill. The governments have asked the four-member Independent Monitoring Commission to bring forward its first report on the state of the IRA and loyalist ceasefires to Easter.

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said on his arrival in Hillsborough that the two governments were focusing only on the IRA and the Unionists' willingness to share power and had ignored the governments' failure to implement their obligations under the Agreement.

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