Blair and Ahern to Forge Ahead on Declaration; PM Celebrates 50th Birthday with Dublin Show of Unity

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), May 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Blair and Ahern to Forge Ahead on Declaration; PM Celebrates 50th Birthday with Dublin Show of Unity


Byline: CIARAN McKEOWN Political Correspondent

IN a pointed demonstration of solidarity and friendship in Dublin yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern declared their determination to proceed with implementation of as many elements of their Joint Declaration as possible, ruled out "renegotiation" of the Good Friday Agreement, and committed themselves to renewed talks to resolve the issues which led to the postponement of the May 29 Assembly election.

Mr Ahern described Mr Blair's visit "on a milestone birthday" as further proof of the Prime Minister's commitment to the peace process. Mr Blair, for his part, met the full Irish Cabinet, enjoyed a 50th-birthday drinks reception with them, and described the working relationship between the two governments as "absolutely remarkable".

The warm show of unity followed last week's disagreement over the election postponement, which was followed by an unprecedented attack on Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams - who said Mr McDowell was the "weakest link" in recent negotiations - and by attacks from all parties except the Ulster Unionists on Mr Blair.

The two leaders met alone for about 20 minutes before being joined by Ministers and officials for a full discussion of the present situation, and the programme for the months ahead.

No date for an autumn Assembly election emerged for the meeting, with both Prime Ministers emphasising that the two issues - unmistakeable clarity from the IRA on ending all its activities, and commitments from others to institutional stability - had to be resolved first.

For the DUP and other anti-Agreement unionists, there was a blunt message that there would be no renegotiation, and an equally withering dismissal of criticism of the Joint Declaration.

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern insisted that the Good Friday Agreement remained the only template for political progress in the Province - but there had to be a clear undertaking from the IRA that it would end all paramilitary activity if the Agreement was to be implemented in its entirety.

The Government will implement plans to remove two Army watchtowers in south Armagh, introduce police and criminal justice reforms and address Irish language issues.

All these issues were contained in the Joint Declaration released by the two governments last week and were not directly linked to the ending of paramilitary activity.

Mr Blair said: "There's a lot we can do to put ourselves in the position, when we do get clear and unequivocal answers, to be able to move this whole process forward.

"However frustrating it is to be at this present impasse, the fact is that we have come an enormously long way.

"One other thing I want to make very clear is that sometimes people talk about renegotiating the Good Friday Agreement: there is going to be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"That is the Agreement. That is the only Agreement upon which there is any possibility of getting the consensus to move Northern Ireland forward and it isn't going to change.

"Likewise with the Joint Declaration. We have covered all the areas we needed to cover. It is, as the people have seen, a very comprehensive assessment and plan for implementation of all the remaining aspects that the two governments can properly affect.

"So we have the Good Friday Agreement, we have the Joint Declaration, we know what the cause of the present impasse is. We have got to work, redouble our efforts to overcome it."

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern said much had been achieved in recent weeks, but there was still not the basis for persuading David Trimble's Ulster Unionists to go back into government with Sinn Fein. …

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