November 26th, 2004  

Topic: N.Ireland

U.S. President George W. Bush has joined efforts to break a deadlock in the Northern Ireland peace process, telephoning Protestant leader Ian Paisley as negotiations ground on in London and Belfast.

Paisley, the 78-year-old hardliner who could decide whether the talks succeed or fail, said he had spoken to Bush on Friday as rival Protestant and Catholic politicians studied an Anglo-Irish plan to revive home rule in the province.

Britain and Ireland are trying to push Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) into agreeing to share power with the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) political ally Sinn Fein -- a partnership previously considered unthinkable.

"I had a long and very useful conversation with him (Bush), I told him I'd like to be in a position to make a deal, but that any deal must be fair," Paisley told reporters in Belfast.

"I reminded the President of the fact that he would not have terrorists in his government, and that we must be satisfied that IRA terrorism is over and cannot return."

Bush has not continued his predecessor Bill Clinton's enthusiastic engagement in Northern Ireland, but the U.S., which helped broker the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, has continued to play a low key role in efforts to keep the process on track.

The 1998 agreement, which sought to end a three-decade political and sectarian conflict which cost more than 3,600 lives, set up a powersharing government in Belfast to run most of the province of 1.7 million people's affairs.

But while the violence has largely stopped, political stability has been elusive, with the vexed issue of the IRA and its guns dogging efforts to sustain a Catholic-Protestant administration.

Britain suspended home rule in October 2002 after allegations of IRA spying caused a final breakdown of trust between Protestant unionists, who support British rule, and Catholic republicans, who yearn for a united Ireland.

London and Dublin's latest plan, which was given to the DUP and Sinn Fein last week but has not been published, is aimed at securing the full disarmament of the IRA, and so winning a promise from Paisley to share power with Sinn Fein.

Sources involved in the talks say a potential dealbreaker is the DUP's demand that the IRA provides photographic evidence when it has destroyed all its weapons.

The IRA, which called a ceasefire in its violent campaign against British rule in 1997, has carried out three partial acts of disarmament between 2001 and 2003 but, wary of anything carrying connotations of surrender, insisted on strict secrecy.

Returning to Belfast after talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said his party would not seek any movement from its guerrilla ally until a deal to restore powersharing was agreed.

"We haven't gone to the IRA, we have no plans to go to the IRA, we will only take those decisions when we have a comprehensive package and we take a judgement on that," he said.
November 26th, 2004  
Haven't heard about IRA for a long long time, seems it is quiet there in NIreland, actually a very good thing.

Once talked with many dudes from Ireland and N.Ireland, actually ALL of them don't care at all. For me, I think as long as N.Irelanders are happy there, that't OK.
November 29th, 2004  
Rival Protestant and Catholic parties are fighting for concessions on IRA disarmament and British troop withdrawals amid a flurry of efforts to seal a lasting political settlement in Northern Ireland.

In London, the head of the IRA's political ally Sinn Fein held unprecedented talks with Northern Ireland's police chief. In Belfast, Protestant hardliner Ian Paisley met the Canadian general overseeing paramilitary disarmament.

The meetings on Monday were part of a final Anglo-Irish push to enable the rivals to agree a deal to salvage a 1998 peace accord under which they would share power over most affairs in the province.

"We are obviously at a very intensive stage now," Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters.

He was speaking after chairing a once unthinkable meeting between a Sinn Fein delegation led by Gerry Adams, and Northern Ireland's Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

"We've been here so many times before, hopes raised and then dashed, that I'm almost fearful of raising them. It's obvious people would like to get a deal done. Whether that is possible or not, the next few days will tell us," Blair added.

London and Dublin's objective is to secure full disarmament by the IRA and win a pledge from Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Paisley to share power with Sinn Fein, the republican party he once vowed to "smash".

Negotiations have been carried out with British and Irish officials acting as go-betweens because Paisley's party refuses to speak to Sinn Fein while the IRA remains armed and intact.

"Things are at a very delicate stage," said Paisley after talks with General John de Chastelain, head of an international commission charged with verifying the "decommissioning" of paramilitary arsenals.

"If this decommissioning problem can be solved then we are on our way, but it is not solved at the present time."


Adams said a deal depended on Paisley, the 78-year-old cleric renowned for his refusal to compromise with his Catholic foes.

Asked if they were on the brink of a deal, Adams said: "We're always on the brink. It's down to political will."

"If we can get the DUP to agree in clear terms to power sharing ... then of course," he said. "It isn't a matter in my view of 'if' because we've always felt that a deal is inevitable ... it's a matter of 'when.'"

Power sharing in Belfast between unionists and republicans was set up under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

That accord has largely succeeded in ending a three-decade political and sectarian conflict which cost more than 3,600 lives, but stability has proved elusive.

Britain suspended the Belfast administration in 2002 after allegations of IRA spying caused a breakdown of trust.

Adams said he discussed "demilitarisation" of Northern Ireland with Orde. Sinn Fein wants security to be scaled back in the IRA's Catholic heartlands, where police stations resemble forts and Army observation posts dot the landscape.