Ahern hopes to meet SF on his return from tour


The Taoiseach hopes to meet Sinn Fein tomorrow night to discuss problems in the peace process, on his return from a tour of Mediterranean countries.

The British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, will also be talking to Sinn Fein this week, and Mr Ahern hopes to meet the North's Deputy First Minister, Mr Seamus Mallon, at the start of next week.

Mr Ahern arrived in Cyprus from Malta yesterday for talks with President Clerides and his ministers on the negotiations for Cypriot membership of the European Union - now at an advanced stage - and the issue of how Ireland could use its membership of the UN Security Council to help ease tension on the divided island.

Welcoming the Taoiseach, the Foreign Minister, Mr Joannis Kasoulides, said the problems of the two islands might appear intractable: "And yet the Northern Irish problem is finding its way towards a solution and we hope that the same will happen with the question of Cyprus."

Mr Ahern said Cyprus was "one of the major issues on the agenda for us" on the Security Council. Ireland had been sending UN troops to the island since the 1960s.

He believed there were some lessons for Cyprus from the experience of the Good Friday agreement. "Every conflict resolution situation is different, there are different tensions and different strains but the divided community syndrome is very much like Northern Ireland."

The Taoiseach visited the Irish UN peacekeeping contingent of 25 members of the Garda Siochana and Army at the Blue Beret Camp, Nicosia, in the buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish sectors. He was given a tour of the area by Lieut Col Murt Farragher and Chief Supt Jack Behan.

On the peace process at home, Mr Ahern said there was "ongoing dialogue" with the SDLP about the difficulties over the implementation of the Patten Report on policing in Northern Ireland. He had "fairly lengthy" informal discussions with Mr Mallon when they met on holiday in Spain last week, so he was "very aware" of the difficulties and had relayed them to Mr Blair in a telephone conversation on Monday night.

Decommissioning, demilitarisation and policing were the three major issues: "These are problems to solve, maybe they are short-term obstacles but we have to keep working at them and Prime Minister Blair and I are committed to doing that over the next few weeks." He said people had to try to "energise" themselves.

"While we had, up to Christmas, made substantive progress and while things are good generally, these are still three major obstacles that are preventing us making the kind of progress that we would like to make, so we said we would spend January working as hard as we could to try to get some agreement on these issues."