Ulster talks at Stormont 'calm and businesslike'

IRISH government ministers faced rigorous questioning by Unionists at Stormont yesterday as the sides met in Belfast for the first time in 25 years.

The Rev Ian Paisley grilled John Wilson, deputy prime minister of the Republic, and his team for almost five hours in the latest series of negotiations aimed at finding a political settlement in Northern Ireland.

The historic meeting for 'strand two' discussions in the process set up by Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was apparently free of hostility. All sides left without comment. The talks, presided over by the former Australian governor general, Sir Ninian Stephen, were later described as 'calm and businesslike'.

Mr Wilson, along with Des O'Malley, the industry minister, David Andrews, the foreign affairs minister, and Padraig Flynn, the justice minister, were told by Mr Paisley that there could be no progress unless the Republic ended its territorial claim over Northern Ireland by removing articles Two and Three from its constitution.

His questioning will continue today and the Stormont leg of the discussions is likely to continue for some weeks.

The SDLP will come under examination next, followed by the Democratic Unionist Party, then the British Government, and finally the Official Unionist Party. Not since 1967, and a visit by the Republic's then Prime Minister, Jack Lynch, has a member of the Irish government been inside Stormont on official business.

Not long after the Irish delegation flew into Belfast the IRA bombed a golf clubhouse in the south of the city causing extensive interior damage.

The talks process is expected to continue beyond 27 July, the date of the next scheduled Anglo-Irish conference meeting.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, yesterday rejected three of nine recommendations from the independent watchdog which deals with complaints against the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Responding in a written parliamentary answer to the 1988-91 Triennial Review of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, Sir Patrick rejected a call for an independent tribunal to hear disciplinary charges.

Figures released by the commission last month showed that in two years it was unable to verify any of 840 claims of ill-treatment of terrorist suspects in custody.