Bid to restore devolution

INTENSIVE talks on the North’s future are expected to be held in London’s Lancaster House later this month.

The Irish and British governments are to call all sides in Belfast together for a three-day negotiating session to try to restore devolution in advance of the European elections in June.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are prepared to clear their trays to facilitate the process. London and Dublin fear they need to inject major momentum into the process to prevent it drifting without resolution towards the summer.

A Government source said: “They will try everything possible to get this moving, but it’s really up to the will of those involved whether it can succeed.”

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern decided to call all parties together for the proximity talks following last month’s discussions at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down.

Pressure for a breakthrough is expected to intensify once the new Independent Monitoring Commission issues its first report on the state of paramilitary ceasefires within the next fortnight.

Lancaster House hosted talks on cross-Border relationships in the run-up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

With the six-year-old accord now mired in difficulties following the failure to restore the Stormont power-sharing Executive, a breakthrough is desperately needed.

A review of the peace accord has so far failed to produce a solution.

A senior Sinn Féin negotiator, Bairbre de Brún, insisted the new move was needed.

The West Belfast MLA said: “We have been very clear that the two governments need to take urgent action if the peace process is to be put back on track and the political institutions re-established.”

Seán Farren, a member of the SDLP’s talks team, expressed hope that the initiative signalled a new determination by London and Dublin to see the process through.

“I hope these talks can move the whole thing forward,” he said.

Urging all sides to co-operate, the North Antrim MLA added: “People are getting frustrated and they want progress now.”

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