Last ditch talks to restore self-rule in Northern Ireland are taking place today. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern will be hosting the three day marathon at St Andrews, in Scotland. Representative’s from the province’s five main parties will try to thrash out an agreement. But it is feared that long-term difficulties between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party could scupper the talks. Stormont, is home to the power sharing institutions. The Belfast-based Assembly has been on hold since 2002 amid allegations of a Republican spy ring there. Direct rule from London has been in place ever since.
The Protestant DUP has refused to share power with Sinn Fein – considered the political ally of the Irish Republican army – until all links to violence are severed. There is a glimmer of hope now since a report on the IRA said it was keeping by its commitment to peace. The stakes are high – if no accord is reached it is said the Assembly will be shelved indefinitely.
A deadline has been set for November 24. Overcoming the deep mistrust between the DUP and Sinn Fein is key, if Blair is to reach his goal of reviving Northern Ireland’s self rule before he steps down and leader.