08/12/2004

'Remarkable' progress but NI deal not complete, Blair

The Prime Minister in Belfast today has said that there has been "remarkable" progress in the current bid to restore devolved government to Northern Ireland.

However, hopes of a solution being reached in the current round of talks receded earlier today when Democratic Unionist Party leader Reverend Ian Paisley said that the IRA would refuse to provide photographic evidence of decommissioning.

Mr Blair was in Belfast today with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to publish the joint British-Irish government proposals on power sharing, with a message that if a deal had been agreed decommissioning could have been completed.

But just hours before the Rev Paisley had poured cold water on the deal saying that his party would not sign up to restart devolution as agreement had not been reached on verification of arms decommissioning.

Mr Blair said he could not see the process "going backward" but that he knew it was "going to require extra effort to complete the journey".

Mr Ahern agreed that the political landscape had changed and said that the governments had worked on the proposals for months. He said: "We had obviously wished to be able to present the proposals in the context of a full agreement, before we came here, but that is not possible".

He said that work would continue in an effort to secure an agreement and he was sure that the proposals would benefit by receiving "wider public appraisal".

Part of the proposed agreement included an IRA statement instructing "volunteers" not to "engage in any activity which might endanger the new agreement".

Following a meeting in Belfast with General John De Chastelain, the head of the decommissioning body, Mr Paisley said: "It is quite clear that the IRA are not going to decommission. Nothing on decommissioning was agreed with them. Not only photographs, but nothing was discussed or settled about the independent witnesses, inventory and all the things that we were interested in.

"The situation is this: that the IRA are dead set on keeping their arms and going on with IRA/Sinn Fein's twofold policy of democracy and terrorism.”

The British and Irish governments conducted intensive negotiations in separate meetings with delegations from the DUP and Sinn Fein.

(SP)

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