Gloom at Stormont as Major arrives in North


THE British Prime Minister, Mr John Major, arrived in Northern Ireland last for what has become his annual Christmas visit.

He will tour a number of areas today, meeting British troops and political and community leaders.

His visit is coinciding with the final pre-Christmas multi-party talks session at Castle Buildings, Stormont.

Mr Major last visited the North in June when the talks began at Stormont.

He arrives at a time of political stalemate and trepidation about the future of the peace process. The talks are due to adjourn today for a number of weeks, with the crucial decommissioning issue still unresolved.

The talks chairman, former US senator Mr George Mitchell, is expected to notify the participants' today that, almost six months since the negotiations began, no degree of consensus has been achieved.

The talks are due to adjourn about lunchtime until some time in January. The participants are expected to return for further bilateral and trilateral meetings about the second or third week in January, with a plenary meeting likely to be arranged for the end of the month.

The slow and unproductive nature of the talks has taken its toll on the mood of the participants. There is a general view at Stormont that there will be no progress until after the Westminster elections.

There has also been speculation about whether Mr Mitchell will be willing to engage in another round of unfruitful meetings in the new year. His spokesman said last night that he expected to be back at Stormont when the talks resume in January.

Mr Mitchell was among a number of dignitaries whom Mr Major and his wife, Norma, met at a private function at Hillsborough Castle last night. Mr Major, who was late arriving for the dinner, made no comment about current political matters to reporters.