Paisley challenges Blair to reveal 'secret deal'

Ian Paisley tonight challenged Tony Blair to give details of any secret deal he may have struck with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

Ian Paisley tonight challenged Tony Blair to give details of any secret deal he may have struck with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

As the British and Irish governments prepare for a new round of negotiations in London later this month, the Democratic Unionist chief urged the British Prime Minister to disclose any arrangements agreed during last year’s failed bid to restore devolution in Northern Ireland.

Mr Paisley said he had written to Mr Blair demanding details of his dealings during the process which collapsed amid uncertainty over IRA disarmament.

Mr Trimble backed out of plans to restore the power-sharing Executive in Belfast after General John de Chastelain’s decommissioning body refused to give precise details on what weapons the Provisionals had destroyed.

“The public are entitled to know the detail of the Trimble October 2003 deal,” insisted Mr Paisley.

“If we are going to move forward in these negotiations we must be made aware of the precise nature of the agreement Mr Trimble put on hold and whether any elements of it are binding in present circumstances.”

The hard-line unionist issued his appeal as it emerged fresh talks on Northern Ireland’s future are expected to be held in London’s Lancaster House later this month.

The two Governments are to call the political parties in Belfast together for an intensive three-day negotiating session to try to restore devolution in advance of the European elections in June.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern are prepared to clear their diaries 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 British 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.

Bairbre de Brun, a senior Sinn Féin negotiator, 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.”

Sean Farren, a member of the nationalist 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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