04/12/2003

Haass moves on to Dublin as Northern talks conclude

The US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland will move on to Dublin later today as talks conclude with the political leaders in Northern Ireland.

President Bush's special envoy Richard Haass met with a representation from Democratic Unionist Party earlier today in a meeting that was afterward described as "useful" by the DUP.

The Rev. Ian Paisley's anti-Agreement DUP emerged from last week's Northern Ireland Assembly election as the biggest Unionist party, taking 30 seats to become the largest single party following the election.

Mr Haass said there was "no crisis" in the political process, but that a way would have to be found to move the process forward.

A row broke out yesterday over claims made by the former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon of the SDLP who used parliamentary privilege to claim that the DUP had been in talks with the Irish government. A claim hotly disputed by the DUP.

However, an invitation has been extended by the Irish prime minister who plans to discuss the situation with all the main political parties. A similar approach is expected to be adopted by his British counterpart Tony Blair as the two premiers attempt to salvage the peace process.

Mr Haass is scheduled to meet representatives from the Progressive Unionist Party today before moving to the Republic of Ireland for talks with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Foreign Minister Brian Cowan in Dublin.

Yesterday, Mr Haass met with delegations from the Ulster Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP and Alliance parties in Belfast.

As an initial round of talks continue following the Assembly election, the Irish government are to meet Sinn Féin and the SDLP to discuss the peace process and the election results.

Sinn Féin's executive, Ard Chomhairle, is also to convene today to discuss the post-election outcome.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended for over a year in a deadlocked political process. But the suspension has been eclipsed by the strong performance of the DUP in last week's election - a Unionist party opposed to the north-south elements of the Good Friday Agreement.

(SP)

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