Unionist talks falter

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The Independent Online
A hotel in Belgravia was used yesterday by the Ulster Unionists and the Irish government in an attempt to kickstart the cross-party talks on Northern Ireland, which are showing little progress.

Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, described as "friendly" his meeting with the Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, and his senior Ulster Unionist MPs.

Highlighting the friendly mood, the Unionists joked with Mr Ahern that they could take the moral high ground because they had a woman on their delegation.

But the two sides emerged after two hours with no fresh agreement. Mr Trimble said they had demanded an early commitment from the Irish government to end Ireland's constitutional claim to the North. Mr Trimble said: "We did make it clear that there has to be substantial change and change that is going to be, as it were, judge-proof. We can't have a situation where things are agreed and then it later turns out, perhaps in an Irish Supreme Court decision, that it means something quite different to what was thought."

The Taoiseach told the Unionist team that he wanted acceptance of cross- border bodies with executive powers for services such as transport, fisheries, and tourism.

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is today expected to press Mr Ahern to meet the Ulster Unionists' calls for clarity on the constitutional claim at an EU jobs summit in Luxembourg.