Irish, British PMs Focus on Peace
LONDON (AP) _ The British and Irish prime ministers launched a new effort Tuesday to keep Northern Ireland’s faltering peace accord on track.
After two hours of talks in London, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern said they would embark on a program of ``intensive contacts″ with all parties before meeting later in the week at an informal summit of European Union leaders in Biarritz, France.
Their initiative was seen as a sign of their deepening concern over implementation of the 1998 Good Friday accord, which has become bogged down in disagreements over Britain’s planned reforms to Northern Ireland’s predominantly Protestant police force and the Irish Republican Army’s failure to allow fresh inspections of its arms dumps.
``Over the next week we hope to do our utmost to try to complete a number of issues that we discussed today,″ Ahern told reporters after the meeting at Blair’s Downing Street office.
Ahern said the Irish government was still not happy about the way legislation had been framed to reform the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which is to be turned into a new mixed-religion Police Service of Northern Ireland.
``We want to see a police service in Northern Ireland that is acceptable to all parts of it,″ said Ahern, echoing Catholic concerns that the reforms are too slow and too cautious.
But Britain’s senior official in Northern Ireland, who attended Tuesday’s discussions, said the bill would remain largely unchanged.
``The fundamentals of the bill are in place. They are not going to change,″ Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson said.
Mandelson also repeated Britain’s request that the IRA honor promises it gave in May to open up its arms dumps for a second inspection by international mediators.