Blair hoping Nobel prize will help end impasse on arms

 

The British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, will today try to end the deadlock on decommissioning when he holds separate meetings with Mr David Trimble, the Northern Ireland First Minister, and Mr Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's liaison official with the decommissioning commission.

Mr Blair is hoping that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr Trimble and the SDLP leader, Mr John Hume, will provide a boost to help Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party surmount the obstacle of paramilitary disarmament. However, ahead of today's meetings in London, there were no signs of either the UUP or Sinn Fein moving from their positions.

Mr Trimble, in a number of weekend interviews, again insisted that before Sinn Fein could enter an executive, the IRA must start disarming. Equally, Mr McGuinness contended that the UUP was trying to rewrite the Belfast Agreement by demanding prior decommissioning.

The tension over paramilitary arms and explosives is making it more questionable whether the October 31st deadline in the agreement for the creation of the North-South Council will be met.

The Deputy First Minister, Mr Seamus Mallon, who is to meet Mr Blair later this week, has challenged Mr Trimble's argument that the council can be set up without an executive in place.

Mr Trimble, who must face an increasingly divided party at its annual conference next weekend, appeared at the weekend to be trying to buy more time on the executive issue. UUP factions like Union First and Lagan Valley MP Mr Jeffrey Donaldson effectively have threatened to pose a leadership challenge should Mr Trimble compromise on arms.

Mr Trimble will tell Mr Blair today that he has no room to manoeuvre on disarmament. Indeed, his guarded response to the Nobel prize was motivated by his concern that decommissioning could wreck the agreement.

He may also argue that there is no linkage between the North-South Council and the executive, and that the issue can be long-fingered because the executive is not due to be fully functioning until February at the earliest.

While the agreement mentions disarmament occurring over a two-year period, Mr Trimble told Sky Television that "logically it has to be started before the twoyear period".

His fellow Nobel laureate, Mr Hume, distanced himself from Mr Trimble's position. He said unionists should be conscious of the "psychological problem of the no surrender mentality" which also applied to republicans. "What I see is that they are committed to ending violence completely, to taking the gun out of our politics."

Mr McGuinness said Mr Trimble's "obstinate position" on the creation of a shadow executive was unacceptable. "The Ulster Unionists cannot be allowed to frustrate the wishes of the vast majority of the people on this island any longer."