Ahern sets four-day deadline for peace deal

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern last night imposed a four-day deadline to get an historic breakthrough on a Northern peace deal.

Mr Ahern, speaking at the annual Cairde Fáil dinner dance in Dublin last night, said that time is running out and a deal must be achieved.

“Resolving all the outstanding issues and bringing fair closure is the challenge that we have set ourselves. It is not an easy task. But after exhaustive effort we have done our work and decisions now need to be made by the parties involved.

“No deal is perfect. But what is in prospect is truly historic. It is also fair and reasonable,” he said.

The Taoiseach also said that throughout the course of the protracted negotiations, the Government ensured that the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement were protected.

“In particular, any new arrangements for the election of Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Deputy First Minister will protect the fundamentals of that office and will not undermine its vital joint nature.”

Meanwhile, the Irish Examiner has learned that Sinn Féin’s Northern MEP, Bairbre de Brún, will have the right to participate in Dáil debates from as early as next month if a deal to bring devolved Government to the North is agreed next week.

Government sources confirmed last night that Sinn Féin has pressed for the introduction of legislation that would allow Northern MEPs to attend, and speak at, special Oireachtas debates twice a year.

It would form part of the comprehensive package that remains under negotiation this weekend between the Irish and British governments, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party.

The Irish Examiner understands the Government is likely to accede to the demand as part of a settlement that would see the IRA standing down and Stormont being restored.

If an historic breakthrough is achieved, the first of the special debates in the Dáil involving Ms de Brun could take place as early as January 2005.

The development would give all three Northern MEPs a right to attend special Oireachtas debates. But in practice, it is unlikely that either of the Unionist MEP, Jim Nicholson of the UUP, or the DUP’s Jim Allister, would avail of the right.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson also confirmed that the party had sought this element to be included in the final settlement. The party, he said, had made a compelling case for it to be included.

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