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Paisley denies secret dublin talks

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5:39pm (UK)
Paisley's Party Denies Secret Talks with Dublin

By Ian Graham, PA News.

The Rev Ian Paisley’s hardline Democratic Unionist Party was tonight hotly denying suggestions it had been in secret political negotiations with the Irish government for some time.

The Dublin government has always been branded the enemy by the DUP and the party’s Nigel Dodds, MP for North Belfast, insisted any suggestion they had been involved in such discussions was nothing but “wild accusations” and “completely false”.

The issue was raised by SDLP MP Seamus Mallon who used parliamentary privilege during Northern Ireland questions in the House of Commons to put it to Ulster Secretary Paul Murphy that he knew about negotiations between the DUP and Bertie Ahern’s administration.

He asked what indication the DUP had given to the Irish Government that it wanted to “work the (Good Friday) Agreement rather than smash it”.

He asked “when we might expect these poachers to become gamekeepers?”

Mr Murphy side-stepped the question but the DUP was swift to respond.

The anti-agreement party insists its mandate as the largest party in Northern Ireland following last week’s Assembly elections means the agreement is dead and has to be renegotiated.

Mr Dodds rubbished Mr Mallon’s claims.

He said: “Wild accusations that the DUP were in secret negotiations/talks or any other type of relationship with the Irish government are completely false.”

Claims of a similar nature published at the weekend by an Irish Sunday newspaper were now “the subject of legal action”, he added.

The DUP position had been consistent throughout the election campaign, he said.

“We will talk to the government of the Republic of Ireland on matters of mutual concern.

“We are not in the business of saying one thing in public and behaving differently in private,” Mr Dodds said.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin also denied any political negotiations had taken place with the DUP.

The spokesman said the party’s members had met some of its officials on social occasions but that did not amount to negotiations.

It was confirmed by Downing Street today that Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to meet the Northern Ireland party leaders soon in an attempt to end the deadlock in the political process and achieve the restoration of devolution.

The discussions are expected to be in London before Christmas, said Downing Street.

Meanwhile, the Government was under fresh pressure to force the IRA into disarming following the polarising election which saw Sinn Fein overtake the SDLP to become the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said in the Commons that the underlying problem was failure by Republicans to decommission all their weapons under the Good Friday Agreement.

“Should you not focus on that rather than rearrange the details through some review which is only looking at the mechanics of the institutions and the operation of them?” he asked Mr Murphy during Northern Ireland questions.

“Shouldn’t you focus on the failure of Republicans to deliver peace wholly and completely ?”

Mr Murphy said the issue was important, but under the agreement the Government was obliged to hold a conference on reviewing it.

He said more than 70% of members elected to the Assembly last week were supported by parties which were in favour of the agreement.

“The immediate issue also that faces us is that we must try to restore the institutions of the Assembly and of the Executive, and the issues that prevented the restoration of the Executive in October are still with us and still need to be resolved,” said Mr Murphy.

President George Bush’s Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, Richard Haass, was heading to Belfast for two days of talks with the political leaders in a Washington-driven initiative to gain a breakthrough.

In Dublin, Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness MP said that the “minority rejectionist position” of the DUP must not be allowed to place a stranglehold on progress.

He said that in the election nearly 500,000 people had voted for pro-agreement parties – 70% of the total electorate.

“Their voice must be heard and not drowned out by the rejectionist camp who gained around 30% of the votes,” he added.

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