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18 December 1997 Edition

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Unionists want limited agenda

By Marcas Mac Ruairi

THE Stormont talks broke for Christmas on Tuesday with Unionists refusing to agree that everything must be on the table for discussion.

The negotiations had been streamlined to two members of each party in recent weeks in order to facilitate a dialogue which could set an agenda. But this effort also fell foul of Unionist intransigence.

The difficulties are not being seen as a structural problem with the talks, but rather the result of a deliberate policy of prevarication the Unionists have adopted in an attempt to stall progress.

Under David Trimble's leadership, the UUP has dug in and refused to accept certain proposals for discussion. His party has failed to come to terms with the fact that this is a negotiation process. As such there can be no party with a veto on any areas for discussion

And with the talks now suspended until the New Year with no progress to report, the whole process is in danger of losing credibility.

Both the London and Dublin governments now need to take on board that Unionist tactics cannot be allowed to retard the opportunity to resolve the conflict in Ireland.

What is required to move the process forward are broad areas of agreement for discussion, a compehensive list of issues for debate prepared by the Chairman, Senator George Mitchell and an agreed format for the discussion.

If the talks are to succeed, no one party can be allowed to preclude issues from debate. Both governments must realise this and take steps to ensure that the process is not jeopardised by Unionist intransigence.

With deadlock remaining at the agenda for talks, the parties will reconvene at Stormont on 12 January.

For its part, Sinn Féin has once more reiterated that it is coming to the negotiating table with its own agenda, but will nonetheless listen to and engage with all other parties on whatever issues they choose to put on the table.

Party President Gerry Adams said: ``We went into this phase of talks with a clear understanding that there could not be a SInn Féin wish list or a Unionist wish list, that there had to be an inclusiveness which allowed other people's issues to be put down for resolution.''

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