Ulster Peace Talks: The Exhausting Countdown

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The Independent Online
THIS IS how events unfolded as the midnight deadline in the Northern Ireland peace talks passed:

WEDNESDAY

8.50am: The Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, and his team arrive at Stormont, saying: "It is now the day to do the deal ... it is decision day."

9.10am: Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, arrive at Castle Buildings together.

9.21am: They are joined by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam.

9.30am: The European Commission president-designate, Romano Prodi, issues a message of support for participants, urging them to "work together to build ... peace".

9.40am: The Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble arrives, issuing a challenge to the republican movement to choose whether it will commit itself to democratic politics or the gun.

10.50am: A choir of schoolchildren arrives, and is joined by Ms Mowlam in a song for peace.

12.50pm: The Democratic Unionist Party leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, insists that in any deal "guns must be produced, they must be destroyed and there must be complete and total disarmament".

2.45pm: Protesters from the victims' group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (Fair), accompanied by anti-Agreement Unionists, demand a meeting with the Prime Minister.

3.30pm: Ulster Unionists and the Social Democratic and Labour Party hold the first meetings of parties.

4.40pm: Mr Trimble and his Ulster Unionist team meet Fair on the steps of Castle Buildings.

6.15pm: Fair meets Mr Blair.

7pm: Portadown Orangemen travel to Castle Buildings to discuss the Drumcree crisis with the Prime Minister.

8.30pm: Mr Blair has a 15-minute telephone conversation with President Bill Clinton to bring him up to date on the talks as the deadline loomed.

10.30pm: Mr Adams emerges from the discussions to say decommissioning prior to the setting up of a power-sharing executive is not achievable.

11.02pm: Mr Trimble reports that he has received no concrete proposal from Sinn Fein in the past few days of talks.

THURSDAY

0.00am: Mr Blair's midnight deadline passes without any formula for breaking the decommissioning deadlock.

3.40am: Talks are adjourned without agreement after 18 hours, with all parties due to meet again later in the day.

12pm: Mr Blair and Mr Ahern arrive, urging the parties to follow through on progress achieved during previous day's talks.

12.10pm: Mr Trimble, going into the negotiations, spells out his party's demands.

12.15pm: Mr Adams responds, accusing the Ulster Unionists of misleading the public about their knowledge of yesterday's deal.

2pm: Round table of the British and Irish governments, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Sinn Fein. It lasts 45 minutes, with all the pro-Agreement parties being asked to produce position papers.

2.10pm: Prime Minister's official spokesman tells reporters the gap between Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists could still be bridged.

3pm: Before heading to Castle Buildings, Mr Paisley lays a wreath in memory of those killed in the Battle of the Somme.

3.45pm: Deadline for the parties' position papers.

4pm: Position papers are circulated.

5.45pm: The SDLP leader, John Hume, and his deputy, Seamus Mallon, meet Mr Blair for half an hour.

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