Ulster government could be restored if Unionists agree

The scene was set for a historic next stage of the Northern Ireland peace process yesterday, with the announcement that Ulster Unionists will be summoned to a critical meeting in Belfast next Saturday.

The likelihood is David Trimble will ask his party to go into government with Sinn Fein on the basis of last week's statement in which the IRA offered to put weapons "beyond use". A positive outcome to that meeting would mean a new cross-community government could come into being on Monday 22 May. But in the meantime there will be anxious days of waiting as Mr Trimble seeks to extract last-minute concessions from the Government on the arms question, policing and other issues. Some of his demands are being strongly resisted by Sinn Fein.

The 860-member Ulster Unionist Council which Mr Trimble is to address next week has already told him to bring about decommissioning and seek concessions on policing reform.

The Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams struck a religious note yesterday in responding to the calling of the Unionist meeting. He said: "It is my fervent prayer and wish that their leadership goes to them with the right recommendation to embrace fully this initiative."

Opponents within the party had called on Mr Trimble not to summon the meeting. Jeffrey Donaldson MP said it was unwise, adding: "The deal doesn't meet the requirements of even the most liberal of Unionists in terms of disarmament."

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