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British, Irish governments draft power-sharing proposal

Peace Talks Graphic January 12, 1998
Web posted at: 2:23 p.m. EST (1923 GMT)

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- All the political key players in the Northern Irish peace process resumed talks on Monday at Stormont Castle as both the Irish and British governments agreed on proposals aimed at overcoming the sectarian divide and decades of violence in the British province.

Officials said delegates from all the main pro-British Unionist and Republican parties, as well as the political leaders of guerrillas on both sides of the conflict, attended Monday's talks, despite four factional killings in recent weeks.

The British and Irish governments agreed to proposals that reportedly outlined new power-sharing structures involving London, Dublin and Belfast. The proposals were now to be presented to the round-table talks.

"It is a sketch of what the (eventual) agreement might look like," said an Irish source. "What this is supposed to do is to pave the way for detailed negotiations."

The blueprint is thought to include proposals for a new Northern Ireland Assembly -- a council linking London and Dublin -- and new island-wide structures.

It should in effect be an agenda for talks that have been mired in inter-party rivalry and overshadowed by guerrilla violence for 18 months.

"We are now looking at something ... which they can get their teeth into," a British source said.

The agreement was reached after intense diplomacy. British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke to his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, eight times by telephone in the past 24 hours, Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews said Monday.

Andrews comments on Northern Ireland's agenda
icon 170K/15 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Tensions simmer

Tension rose after Christmas with four murders by Republican Catholic and rival Unionist Protestant militias who oppose the peace process.

The latest victim, Terry Enwright, a 28-year-old Catholic, was shot dead by the pro-British Protestant Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) early on Sunday at a Belfast nightclub where he was a doorman.

He was married to a niece of one of the province's key political leaders, Gerry Adams, who heads the Sinn Fein political wing of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, which has maintained a truce in its fight against British rule since last July.

The killing cast a further cloud over talks that have been mired in acrimony since they opened in June 1996.

British Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam visited the Maze top security prison last Friday for talks with convicted loyalist guerrillas who had dealt the peace process a blow by withdrawing their long-held support for it.

The visit paid dividends when the prisoners agreed to give renewed backing for the talks.

Arriving for the talks, Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine, who had earlier threatened to walk out, said he believed Blair's initiative could push the process forward.

"There is an opportunity, perhaps with what has happened over the weekend with the intervention of Tony Blair from Japan, to concentrate people's minds on the issues," Ervine told reporters.

He conceded that aspirations on neither the Unionist side, which wants to maintain British sovereignty, nor the Republican side, which wants unity with Ireland, could ever be fully satisfied.

"Therefore there has to be a dropping of sides and realization that we all can have some of what we want, though we can't have all of what we want," he said.

The Irish government, supported by minority Catholic nationalists, wants powerful cross-border institutions, which could blur the 75-year-old border.

Majority Protestants who want continued firm links with London are opposed to anything that smacks of Dublin "interference" in how Northern Ireland should be governed.

 
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