DERRY – It has been two weeks since the Irish and British governments handed Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) its revised terms for the restoration of devolution to Northern Ireland, a key part of the 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of civil conflict in the region. Since then, both parties have consulted their grassroots, come up with responses and requests for clarification for the governments, and engaged in a series of talks with relevant policymakers in Belfast, Dublin, and London. However their respective dealings have not included face-to-face meetings as the DUP refuses to meet with a party it sees as indistinguishable from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). The discussions have so far been mediated by the Irish and British governments. This morning the DUP leader Reverend Ian Paisley was in London to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while a Sinn Féin delegation led by Gerry Adams was in Dublin to meet the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.
DERRY — On Monday the British government officially recognized the ceasefire declared by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Northern Ireland’s largest “loyalist” (Protestant) paramilitary group. The recognition came despite the publication of an Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report that said that the UDA continued to be involved in crime and internal feuding and exercised gangland-style control over loyalist urban areas in Northern Ireland. However the report noted a reduction in UDA activity since the last report was published six months ago. The IMC is a British-Irish taskforce appointed to assess the activity of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups. The move followed consultations between Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy and the Ulster Political Research Group, a think-tank affiliated with the UDA.
DERRY – Last week saw the first conviction for the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious political assassinations. Now, the British government has promised a judicial inquiry to discover the truth behind the killing, which has been one of a few murders tainted by allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries — regarded by many as terrorists fighting to maintain British control of Northern Ireland — and the British state security forces. On 16 September, Ken Barrett, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary group, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the murder of Finucane in February 1989. Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republicans, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force.
DERRY — Three days of intensive talks on Northern Ireland’s political future ended on Saturday afternoon without a deal. However the Irish and British governments remained positive in the aftermath of this latest failure to resolve the ongoing problems in fully implementing the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland’s landmark peace deal forged in 1998. Both British Prime Minster Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern believe that the basis is there for an agreement in the near future. Held at Leeds Castle in Kent in the south of England, the much-anticipated talks opened amid an uncertain atmosphere.