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20/01/2003

UUP slam Stormont talks as a 'smokescreen'

The UUP has refused to take part in implementation talks in Stormont today, saying that the discussions would act as a "smokescreen" for the more serious issue of paramilitarism, according to party leader David Trimble.

Mr Trimble, who is attending a conference in Barcelona, explained his party's decision in a letter sent to Secretary of State Paul Murphy today. Sir Reg Empey also said that as the talks were not inter-party roundtable discussions the UUP were not obliged to be present.

In his letter, the former first minister wrote: "For us the key issue was paramilitarism and the resultant lack of confidence for the continuance of the institutions.

"We were concerned that the inclusion of so many secondary issues, many no doubt appropriate for inclusion in a broad ranging review, would in the present situation merely serve as a smokescreen to divert attention from the cause of the present difficulties. We made it clear that we were opposed to such an agenda."

He added that the problem was further exacerbated by including work that was ongoing in the Northern Ireland Executive.

Mr Trimble commented: “These cannot properly be debated in this format without undermining Executive discussions and decisions. I regret consequently that we cannot participate this afternoon."

The talks, which are being co-chaired by NIO Minister Des Browne and Irish Minister Tom Kitts, dealt with issues relating to the implementation of the agreement. There are no official delegates from Unionist parties at the meetings.

Sinn Fein's former health minister Bairbre de Brun said that what the UUP had described as secondary issues, were core to the agreement.

She said: "I am shocked that anyone would say that the rights of victims or taking forward work on a bill of rights – even the question of symbols and emblems – are peripheral issues. I don’t see that, they are core and central to the Good Friday Agreement.

"We need to stick with it… to continue to go into the implementation groups and have dialogue, and to get the stable institutions up and running because that is what has brought more movement than anything that I have seen in all my years of political activity."

Elsewhere, a Sinn Fein delegation comprising party vice-president Pat Doherty, Dail TD Caoimhghin O Caolain, and Conor Murphy is expected to meet with the Secretary of State at Castle Buildings tomorrow morning.

Ahead of the meeting, Sinn Fein's assembly group leader Mr Murphy said: "We need clarification that the work of the North South Ministerial Council is taken forward and developed, we need to see the work in the designated areas of cooperation such as agriculture and transport progress and that the operation of the All Ireland Implementation Bodies will not be frustrated in any way."

(GMcG)

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