Trimble says governments need to focus on paramilitaries

 

The Irish and British governments need to focus on the actions of paramilitaries in a bid to address the crisis in the Northern Ireland peace process, Ulster Unionist leader Mr David Trimble said today.

The North’s First Minister, commenting after a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council in Armagh, insisted the political institutions were working.

"What is not working are the things which paramilitary organisations should have done to implement their part of the (Belfast) Agreement. That is the crisis. There isn't a crisis in the North South Ministerial Council. There isn't a crisis in the British-Irish Council.

"There is no crisis in the Northern Ireland Executive - not even in relation to the DUP ministers who co-operate in everything but attendance. The problem is entirely a matter of the action of the paramilitary organisations and of course, it is in that context that we should then meet to consider what we do on the issue.

"Those issues which relate to ongoing violence are of course matters primarily for the two sovereign governments. That is why we are glad to see that they are focusing on the issue. But that is not today's work, it is next week's work and I would ask you to be patient."

Unionists have grown anxious about allegations of ongoing IRA activity in Belfast and claims that they have tested weapons in Colombia. Republicans have denied the allegations.

Mr Ahern sought to play down any sense of crisis in the peace process after today's meeting.

Describing the meeting as "good", he insisted that the work being done through the North-South Ministerial Council was proof of how the new political institutions created by the Belfast Agreement were working positively for people in Ireland, North and South.

"We have spent the morning discussing extremely important issues," he said. "We have talked about health and co-operating on various areas of research at all levels. We have been talking about agriculture and the huge progress that has been made.

"There has been an enormous amount of progress right across all the areas of co-operation and I don't think anybody who collectively looks at what we are doing can see anything other than very sensible items to do with partnership."

Today's meeting involved eight Northern Ireland ministers, led by the Mr Trimble and Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan.

The Government was represented by 13 ministers, led by Mr Ahern.

Both administrations agreed to the formation of a North-South Consultative Forum, which will meet twice a year.

They also agreed to examine further scope for co-operation on European Union matters.

Plans for a North South Parliamentary Forum involving members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the houses of parliament in the Republic were also being further examined.

A new website on the work of the North-South Ministerial Council was launched by Mr Trimble, Mr Durkan and Mr Ahern.

Mr Durkan later played down the absence of ministers from the Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, who have refused to recognise the North South bodies.

"It seems to me that the DUP ministers who don't attend obviously have huge confidence in the rest of us to go ahead and conduct the business without them," he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin's education minister Mr Martin McGuinness said any crisis in the peace process was due to battles within unionism rather than any actions of republican paramilitaries.

"I think we have to be honest about where we find ourselves at the moment. There is still a battle taking place within the political leadership of unionism. That more than anything else is putting pressure on the process," he said.

PA