ULSTER PEACE TALKS: `Third attempt is the hardest'

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The Independent Online
SEAMUS MALLON, the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, said that yesterday's talks were made all the harder by the failure of Wednesday night's marathon all-night session.

Mr Mallon, arriving early for the talks yesterday morning, said: "I think it is going to be very difficult; the very fact of the way it concluded last night makes it more difficult." He fell short of accusing the Ulster Unionists of walking out of the discussion in the early hours of yesterday but said: "Let's say their exit was speedy."

Mr Mallon, deputy leader of the SDLP, said there had been a "high level of depression" when the discussion broke up without success. The Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein needed to move if there was to be a successful outcome.

He said everyone would do everything to encourage a deal, but repeated: "It will probably be more difficult today. This is the third time when a concerted effort was made by the two prime ministers and the parties to resolve this. The question is, can this process sustain and survive a third failed attempt?"

He added: "The tragedy is this could and should have been done yesterday."

Despite suggesting movement that had been made by both Sinn Fein and the Unionists, he indicated Sinn Fein's move had been the most significant. "For the first time we have an opportunity of getting decommissioning, getting the removal of illegal arms - now it is going to be tragic if, for whatever reason, that opportunity is missed."

He said there were those within the Ulster Unionist Party who "can't read the small print so easily". He hoped it was spelt out to them by those within the party leadership.

As he arrived yesterday, Mr Mallon predicted that if the situation had not been resolved by last night, the two prime ministers would call it a day.

Just what Mr Blair and Mr Ahern will propose in the event of failure was uncertain last night. However it is thought they would suggest the parties went away to consider their position and resume in September.