New NI peace blueprint unveiled
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Britain and Ireland have unveiled a new blueprint aimed at rescuing the stalled peace process in Northern Ireland.
The 10-page document states that decommissioning of paramilitary arms is "indispensable" to the future of the peace process.
In return it offers more commitments on military cutbacks and police reform as incentives to get the handover of weapons under way.
The current crisis in the peace process was triggered by the resignation of David Trimble as first minister in the Northern Ireland power-sharing assembly over lack of progress in IRA disarmament
The British secretary of state, Dr John Reid, and Irish Foreign Secretary Brian Cowen made the blueprint public at Hillsborough Castle, Reid's residence outside Belfast.
Both men urged all parties involved in the process to take several days before responding, saying the survival of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord was at stake.
Reid said he was optimistic that the conditions could be created to appoint a First Deputy Minister by the deadline date of August 12.
If this does not happen the UK Government will have to take the decision whether to suspend the Northern Ireland institutions or call fresh elections.
"No one should underestimate the serious consequences for the stability of the Agreement and for the future of Northern Ireland if we can't find an agreed way forward before that date," he added.
"Over the past three years we've come a very long way in Northern Ireland in addressing the historic and deep-seated problems here," Reid said.
"Having travelled this far, it would be nothing short of tragic if that progress were to be jeopardised now."
Cowen said: "Today's package is the result of our collective endeavours. It represents the Government's shared view of the best way forward.
"It's the right package, it's fair and balanced and it's acceptable to the parties. It can help us to deliver the full and early implementation of the Agreement."
Reid recognised that there were elements of the package that were distasteful to each of the parties but said that they represented the only viable way forward.
"Given what is at stake we, the two governments, are urging all the parties to consider them very carefully before reacting. We have asked for the responses by next Monday."
On the critical decommissioning issue, the two governments said: "All parties to the Agreement recognise that, and that under the Agreement, this issue must be resolved in a manner acceptable to and verified by the Independent Commission on Decommissioning in accordance with its basic mandate in law."
Without a firm commitment by the IRA to begin disarming the Unionists are unlikely, at this stage, to give the package their approval.
Proposals for a major scaling down of troop levels and military installations as well as the appointment of an international judge to carry out investigations into alleged collusion and further policing reforms have met some of the key nationalist and republican demands.
The document specified four installations for early demolition, two on the border where IRA support runs high.
"Provided the threat is reduced, the British Government will carry out a progressive rolling programme reducing levels of troops and installations in Northern Ireland," it said.
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who resigned as First Minister at Stormont because of the IRA's failure to disarm, said he would be calling for a meeting of his party's ruling council on Monday to consider its response.
He warned: "The crisis will only be resolved by republicans fulfilling obligations. In the absence of decommissioning there will be no progress and consequently no Ulster Unionist will be able to offer himself for election as First Minister."
Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, the republican political party, said in a statement: "Sinn Fein is coming to this document critically but in a constructive frame of mind." He added that his party's executive would meet on Friday to study the package.
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