NI parties will be urged `fireproof' agreement


President Clinton will this morning urge the Northern Ireland parties to swiftly resolve all the outstanding issues in the peace process and so "fireproof" the Belfast Agreement against further attack.

The nature and scale of Mr Clinton's possible future role was a high talking point last night, despite his insistence that this would be a matter for the incoming American administration. And despite opposition from Mr David Trimble's deputy, Mr John Taylor MP, Downing Street sources echoed Irish enthusiasm for a continuing role for the outgoing President.

However, sources in London and Dublin insisted that thinking on the nature of that role was not yet "developed" and said two issues - IRA decommissioning and Mr Trimble's exclusion of Sinn Fein from meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council - would be central to any package to be agreed during or following President Clinton's visit.

Both governments continued to play down expectations of an immediate breakthrough in the political process as the President arrived at Belfast's Hilton Hotel. At the same time the key British and Irish officials - from Downing Street and the office of the Taoiseach, the Northern Ireland Office, and the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Justice - continued what sources described as "a big push" to end the stalemate.

One source confirmed that this push - driven initially by Dublin - is for an agreement which would "seek to fireproof the process and take us beyond the immediate impasse and the next crisis". Both governments are seeking an agreement which would finally resolve the decommissioning issue and break the now-regular cycle of challenges to Mr Trimble's leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

While accepting that Mr Trimble needs "a credible process" leading to decommissioning, Irish sources are conscious of the negative impact on broad nationalist opinion of Mr Trimble's ban on Sinn Fein participation in meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council.

While "sequencing" is difficult to arrange and of potentially critical importance in the execution of any deal, key insiders last night agreed removing the ban on Sinn Fein and the need to secure serious IRA engagement with the International Decommissioning Commission were the essential building blocks of any agreement between now and early January.

Asked if Dublin shared London's enthusiasm for the idea that republicans might concrete over arms dumps previously seen by the international inspectors Mr Cyril Ramaphosa and Mr Martti Ahtisaari, The Irish Times was told: "The Government is enthusiastic about what works."