Talks in N. Ireland fail to yield resolution

Power-sharing plan in the works, officials say


LEEDS CASTLE, England - Despite pressure from the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland, three days of negotiations among the leaders of Northern Ireland's political parties failed to bridge important differences over how to share power and end paramilitary violence.

But the two prime ministers, Tony Blair of Britain and Bertie Ahern of Ireland, said yesterday that progress had been made, and they indicated that the framework for a breakthrough that would allow Protestants and Catholics to re-establish local rule based on power sharing was on the table.

Reading a joint statement at a news conference at this medieval castle southeast of London, Blair said that negotiations would resume soon to bring a deal "to an early conclusion." Failing that, he said, he and Ahern would resort to unspecified steps to increase the political pressure. He would not set a deadline for a deal, but said "certainly before Christmas."

"If agreement cannot be reached, when it is clear it should be, we will find a different way to move this process forward," Blair said.

Participants in the talks indicated that frustration was building, in part because Blair and Ahern believe they have positioned the outlawed Irish Republican Army to disarm fully and declare an end to its guerrilla war to return the six counties of Northern Ireland to Irish rule. The sectarian conflict, which has claimed thousands of lives, has been in a state of cease-fire for a decade, but the IRA has yet to disarm or declare permanent peace.

Hard-line Protestant demands for new political concessions before agreeing to any resumption of power sharing with Catholics in Northern Ireland have created obstacles that threaten to undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, officials said. That accord made power sharing possible through a Northern Ireland Assembly and executive.

"We believe we can resolve the issues to do with ending paramilitary activity and putting weapons beyond use," Blair said. "However, as a matter of urgency, all parties need to conduct consultations on the possible agreement before we can proceed."

The main sticking points in 34 hours of talks, officials said, were between Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, and the Democratic Unionist Party, the Protestant group founded by the Rev. Ian Paisley, who has been the strongest voice against compromise with the IRA's political wing.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.