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Northern Ireland leaders hold talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London

Northern Ireland leaders hold talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London

The leaders of Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration met with Prime Minister Gordon Brown Friday in a bid to assuage tensions threatening the province's fragile Catholic-Protestant coalition.
The talks lasted six hours but produced no dramatic developments _ just a commitment to keep talking.
First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy leader Martin McGuinness met Brown to discuss contentious issues including the devolution of the police and justice systems, education and Protestant demands for abolition of the Irish Republican Army command.
Brown's office described the talks as "businesslike." Robinson said it had been "a very useful discussion."
"It wasn't a day for negotiations or getting in to massive detail or a day to be dealing with timetables," he said.
He said that, after reporting back to his party, he wanted to "roll up our sleeves and get down to work."
"There's a lot of work to be done and it is in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland that we can make progress," Robinson said.
McGuinness said the talks had been positive.
"I think we are all seized by the urgency of the situation and the need to make progress and I think that the thing we must do now is go back home and continue with our discussions next week in the hope that we can reach successful conclusions," he said.
Robinson was selected Thursday to replace former First Minister Ian Paisley, who has stepped down at the age of 82. Paisley stunned the world last year by sitting down in government alongside Sinn Fein, the public face of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, and working closely with former IRA commander McGuinness.
But tensions between the British Protestant Democratic Unionist Party and the Irish Catholics of Sinn Fein have been rising, threatening the province's 13-month-old governing coalition.
Sinn Fein had threatened to block Robinson's appointment _ a step that could have triggered the collapse of power-sharing _ but relented after the Democratic Unionists agreed to open talks under Brown's direction.
The key deadlock is over forming a new Justice Department for Northern Ireland that would receive powers from Britain to oversee the police and courts.
Protestants oppose the power transfer, in part because of Sinn Fein's preferred candidate for justice minister: Gerry Kelly, who helped plant the IRA's first London car bombs in 1973 and led the biggest prison escape in British history a decade later.
The Democratic Unionists say they might agree nonetheless _ if the IRA takes a final symbolic step toward oblivion by disbanding its seven-man command, known as the army council.
The underground group killed 1,775 people during a failed 1970-97 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom, but renounced violence and disarmed in 2005. The IRA continues to exist as a controlling force in the most hard-line Catholic areas.
Sinn Fein and British intelligence agencies both argue it could be dangerous to push for any organizational dismantling of the IRA, because its members today act as an essential agent for maintaining the peace, particularly in riot-prone parts of Belfast. Splinter IRA groups want to shatter the cease-fire _ and would welcome any power vacuum.
Both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists appear keen to accentuate the positive before the imminent arrival of U.S. President George W. Bush. Bush is expected to offer public greetings to the new Robinson-McGuinness team in Belfast in mid-June.
Bush's visit could provide the most high-profile vehicle for unveiling a diplomatic breakthrough _ or be used to put an international spotlight on the opponents' stubbornness.


Updated : 2021-06-21 06:52 GMT+08:00