Northern Ireland‘s First Minister David Trimble and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams finally come face-to-face on September 10, 1998, in an historic move aimed to bring to an end decades of mistrust between the two sides. The private meeting at Stormont is said to be an important step in the Northern Ireland peace process.
Sinn Féin says the meeting is a hugely significant move. “This is the first time in Irish history that a republican leader and a leader of unionism have sat down together in a room on their own,” says a spokesman. “This is about normalising relations between Sinn Féin and the First Minister.”
But the two men are not expected to shake hands after Trimble says Adams is still holding arms. They are likely to discuss decommissioning terrorist weapons.
The men meet briefly on Monday, September 7, in a round-table discussion of party leaders on procedural matters of the future government of the province, the Northern Ireland Assembly.
News of Trimble’s invitation to Adams breaks the previous week after the Sinn Féin President issues a firm denunciation of violence. But Trimble is adamant that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) must hand over arms before Sinn Féin can take seats in the new government. Sinn Féin has made moves in this direction by appointing strategist Martin McGuinness as an intermediary between the international arms decommissioning body and the IRA.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement includes a power-sharing administration under British rule and an all-Ireland ministerial council to promote island-wide co-operation. London is due to hand over a large measure of home rule powers by February 1999. In the meantime a “shadow” ruling executive must up be set up and mechanisms put in place to ensure smooth implementation of all aspects of the Agreement.
Meanwhile, two rebel Ulster Unionists who ran against official candidates in the 1998 Northern Ireland Assembly election are waiting to learn if they have been expelled from the party. Party officials say it will take several days to decide the future of the two members of the new parliament, Denis Watson and Boyd Douglas, who contested the June poll on an anti-Agreement ticket.
(From: “Trimble and Adams make history,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, September 10, 1998)