04/02/2002

Trimble and Durkan pay respects to World Trade Centre victims

Mr Trimble and Mr Durkan have paid their respects to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York during a wreath-laying ceremony at Ground Zero.

The first and deputy first ministers were on the second day of a week-long visit to the US, and laid the wreath on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.

Following the ceremony, Mr Trimble and Mr Durkan also met with New York firefighters, hundreds of whom died when the World Trade Centre collapsed.

In his first visit to the US capital since becoming SDLP leader, Mr Durkan, along with Mr Trimble, met with senior congressional figures, such as Ted Kennedy and Hilary Clinton. The executive delegation also includes Agriculture Minister Bríd Rodgers.

The ceremony formed the second stage of the visit, as both Mr Trimble and Mr Durkan attended a debate on Sunday, which comprised almost 3,000 delegates, at the World Economic Forum - including politicians, business leaders and academics.

There are a number of the north's high-profile politicians in the US at the moment, including the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and PUP leader David Ervine. The assembled heard Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams make conciliatory noises on the future of the Northern Ireland political process during the debate.

The West Belfast MP said: "I don't think we can force upon unionism an all-Ireland state which doesn't have their assent or consent and which actually reflects their sense of being comfortable."

SDLP Finance minister Sean Farren was quick to respond to Mr Adams's remarks, saying: "If the Republican movement came to this conclusion sooner perhaps some of the tragic events over the past 30 years, including thousands of deaths, might have been avoided. The best indicator of Sinn Fein policy is current SDLP thinking."

At the same debate, Mr Durkan was buoyant on the prospects of the process and spoke of the equality and benefits which the institutions could provide.

The US visit represents the latest stage in Mr Durkan's diplomatic round robin, having already visited Dublin, London and Brussels in recent days, and leading party delegations to meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Mr Trimble and Mr Durkan will also open a Washington bureau for Northern Ireland's devolved government to promote the province's interests.

(GMcG)

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