At an informal European Union summit near Bonn on February 26, 1999, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agree to push for implementation of the Good Friday Agreement by the March 10 deadline.
As EU delegates discuss the Union’s budget and Europe‘s farming subsidies, the two prime ministers vow to battle on with the peace deal’s outstanding problems.
“We’re very clear on what we have to do in the Good Friday agreement … we have just got to keep pushing the thing forward as well as we possibly can,” says Blair.
Both Ahern and Blair say the way forward on the outstanding deadlocked issue of paramilitary disarmament is through the official decommissioning commission. Chaired by former Canadian General John de Chastelain, the international commission is working to take arms out of the province’s political arena.
The republican party Sinn Féin insists it is fully cooperating with the commission, which is implementing the final deadline for the handover of arms in May 2000. But some Ulster Unionists oppose further peace moves because of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) failure to begin disarming.
According to Ahern and Blair, the following few weeks will be a key time to try and finalise disarmament issues.
“During the month of March … we can conclude the central aspects,” says Blair.
However, in a separate development on February 26, the chairman of the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin, warns that pressure on disarmament could cause irreparable damage to the fragile peace process. He adds that disarmament should not become a litmus test for progress.
“Those who are now demanding prior decommissioning before we move to setting up the executive are reneging on the Good Friday Agreement,” says McLaughlin in an interview with BBC Radio.
(From BBC News Online Network, Friday, February 26, 1999 | Pictured: Bertie Ahern with Tony Blair at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998)