Hopes rise for breakthrough in Northern Ireland Peace Process

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

BELFAST — Hopes were rising that the impasse in the Good Friday Agreement could be broken with high level talks in Downing Street between the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley.

It is also expected that the Republican Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams would have separate meetings with the Irish leader Bertie Ahern in Dublin. These meetings follow a historic meeting between Gerry Adams and Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde over issues of police reform and decommissioning.

The current impasse concerns the key issues of decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and the 'de-militarisation' of the province. Previous efforts to achieve a compromise failed because Unionists claimed insufficiently large amounts of IRA weaponry had been decommissioned, and that there was insufficient evidence that the weapons had in fact been destroyed.

Some Unionists are insisting on photographic evidence of the destruction of IRA weapons, a request that is bound to be resisted by more militant Republicans. Even if further decommissioning occurs, Republicans are almost certain to want a specific timetable for the removal of British Army bases in Republican leaning areas of Northern Ireland (such as South Armagh), which are much resented by some local inhabitants.

If the current deadlock were broken, it would mean the reconvening of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was shut down in 2002 amidst accusations of spying by both Republicans and Unionists.