Sinn Fein suspicious over proposed meeting cancellation
The British-Irish Council (BIC) meeting scheduled for Dublin this week is likely to be cancelled to allow officials concentrate on Belfast Agreement talks, according to the British government. But Sinn Féin claim it has been cancelled because Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble has refused to allow their representative to attend.
A senior British government source said tonight that the officials from both governments who were organising the meeting were also engaged in the behind-the-scenes efforts to end the deadlock in the peace process and it was thought better that they continued to concentrate on that.
However, Sinn Féin chairman Mr Mitchell McLaughlin claimed the reasons being put forward by the governments for the likely postponement of the BIC meeting was "bogus".
Mr Blair, who was in Belfast last week for talks with the various political parties, is likely to return with Mr Ahern either later this week or early next.
Both are determined to try to get a resolution to the impasse before the end of the month. They believe it cannot be allowed to drag on much longer, particularly with elections on the horizon.
Mr McLaughlin meanwhile, expressed his suspicion that the true reason for the cancellation of the meeting was that Mr David Trimble had refused to sign the necessary papers for Sinn Féin heath minister Ms Bairbre de Brún to attend.
Mr McLaughlin said if Mr Trimble had refused to sign the papers that it would be "a serious escalation of the difficulties and the Unionist leader will have succeeded in fracturing two of the three legs on which the entire Good Friday Agreement was constructed."
He added: "Rather than cover for Mr Trimble by giving bogus excuses for postponing a meeting, it is incumbent on the two governments to devise mechanisms to negate the Unionist veto on progress."
Meanwhile, the Deputy First Minister, Mr Seamus Mallon has rejected the idea of the SDLP sitting on the Police Commission on an interim basis, saying his further damage could be done to confidence in the new service if his party were to subsequently withdraw.
"There would be no way back. Policing would be enormously damaged, the political process would take a hit, a huge hit, and we would not have got the policing issue resolved," he said.