29/01/2004

Paisley to meet Ahern in London

The staunchly anti-Agreement DUP leader Ian Paisley is scheduled to have his first political meeting with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern later today.

The five-strong delegation of DUP Westminster MPS led by the Rev Paisley will meet with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowan and Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell in the Irish Embassy in London.

Irish government sources have indicated that the brief meeting just days ahead of the forthcoming review of the Good Friday Agreement will be "exploratory" in nature.

Mr Ahern is expected to point to the newly instituted International Monitoring Commission as a means to rekindle a spirit of trust in the Agreement reached in Belfast in 1998.

Ahead of the talks today deputy leader of the DUP Peter Robinson sought to play down the historic nature of the meeting. He said that the DUP would be stressing its views on Sinn Féin, and that expectations should not be raised too high.

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State Paul Murphy and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowan met in Dublin last week to agree the direction that the impending review of the Good Friday Agreement to begin on February 3 will take.

With the Northern Ireland Assembly's suspended since October 2002, the elections in November last year saw gains by the two political extremes in the province. The Democratic Unionist Party now the largest Unionist party in the power-sharing Assembly are fiercely anti-Agreement and object strongly to the involvement of the Irish government in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

This week the main Northern Ireland political parties have been setting out their views on the course of the review process.

(SP)

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