Ulster talks crawl along

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The Independent Online
THE Northern Ireland peace process edged gingerly along yesterday with reportedly useful political talks and signals from the government that it does not hold the IRA to blame for recent bombings.

Tensions appeared to ease somewhat in the multi-party talks as parties discussed the possible shape of new north-south institutions in a new political arrangement.

But at the same time the RUC and army cranked up security in some areas in the wake of the republican bombings which caused widespread damage in the Protestant towns of Moira and Portadown.

Political development minister Paul Murphy said the Moira bomb appeared to have been carried out by the breakaway Continuity army council rather than the mainstream IRA, adding: "As far as we know the IRA ceasefire is intact." The Portadown attack was still under investigation, he said.

Both Sinn Fein and the IRA, meanwhile, have been denying IRA involvement in either attack. Sinn Fein is presently barred from the talks process because of previous IRA violence, but remained politically active yesterday with a meeting between party leaders and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in Dublin.

Mr Murphy said that yesterday and on Monday the political talks had been "very positive, very structured, very hopeful and very encouraging. One of the talks participants, David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist party, advanced the theory that the IRA was split. He added: "It is a position which we perhaps always knew was coming, but we don't know the size of the split so we have got to wait and see." The PUP also reiterated its warning that the ceasefire maintained by its parent paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Volunteer Force, was in danger following the republican bombings.

r The Home Secretary is scrapping the power to issue exclusion orders against alleged terrorists from Northern Ireland entering mainland Britain, writes Colin Brown. Jack Straw said in a Commons written answer he was rejecting the advice of JJ Rowe, who recommended the power of exclusion should be kept following his annual review of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989.