PUP meeting with Mowlam unlikely to affect resolve to pull out of talks


The Progressive Unionist Party is still likely to withdraw from the Stormont talks when they resume in the new year. A party spokesman said yesterday the party was not optimistic that today's meeting with the Northern Secretary would resolve its problems with the peace process.

Mr Billy Hutchinson thought the meeting with Dr Mo Mowlam would be futile.

"It's time to tell her to forget about it," he said. "We are not going to be part of a process which is going to exclude us."

The PUP, the UVF's political wing, has accused both governments of keeping the parties at the talks in the dark and making the real decisions behind closed doors. It is particularly angry that it was not informed of the Government's decision last week to grant early release to nine IRA prisoners in the Republic.

The PUP's leader, Mr David Ervine, has claimed the peace process is biased in favour of republicans. Mr Ervine doubted the British government could take action quickly enough to resolve the situation.

The talks resume on January 12th. Loyalist sources believe the PUP will not be there. Senior Ulster Unionist Party sources, however, have accused the PUP of "crying wolf" and copying the behaviour of republicans when they had difficulties with the peace process.

"The PUP are not really going to walk away from this process," said a source. "Where would they go? They are the people who have been saying that the day of the gun is over. They were letting off steam about the prisoners issue and they said they probably wouldn't return to the talks. The danger is that they have backed themselves into a corner."

Another UUP source said: "It is all part of a bargaining process. There are elements in the UVF dissatisfied with the process and the PUP is using its muscle to wring concessions for loyalists from the government."

Mr Gary McMichael, the leader of the Ulster Democratic Party, the UDA's political wing, said that while he shared some of the PUP's concerns that the peace process was favouring republicans, his party was committed to remaining at the talks table.

"Everyone is having difficulties with this process," he said. "The government needs to address the imbalance. There must be confidence-building measures for loyalists. But we must be there to see this thing through."