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13 February 2003 Edition

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Hillsborough talks frustrating

Speaking after a Sinn Féin delegation met with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Hillsborough on Wednesday evening, party chair Mitchel McLaughlin said it had been a frustrating experience.

"We didn't get any detailed feedback in response to the analysis of the situation we have presented to the two governments in the four months since the suspension of the institutions, which was disappointing. There were no concrete proposals put forward.

"We are satisfied from our discussions that a short and intensive period of engagement is envisaged but there are also serious reasons for believing we may be running out of time,"

said McLaughlin. He said the parliamentary timetable in relation to the calling of the Assembly elections is getting tight, but more importantly, there is also the looming prospect of war in the Middle East.

"We stand ready to get engaged but there is the worry that the two governments may have left it short of time," he said.

Speaking to party activists the previous weekend in Belfast, Gerry Adams had warned that "four months into this crisis there is no sign so far that the British government is willing to move effectively to deal with the resistance to change that has dogged the process".

He said that "the focus for us must be to thwart the efforts to prevent the process of change.

"We must continue to build our political strength, and to defend the Good Friday Agreement.

"Our party will not dodge our responsibilities in the times ahead. There is no way forward except through negotiations. We are agents of change and our commitment is to play a full role in meeting every challenge in the time ahead."

The Sinn Féin delegation to Hillsborough consisted of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald, Arthur Morgan, Sue Ramsey, Dara O'Hagan, Bairbre de Brún, Francie Molloy and McLaughlin himself. All the pro-Agreement parties had meetings with the two premiers.

The next such meeting is scheduled to take place on 3 March.

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