Bush Backs New Push for Northern Ireland Peace Plan

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - President Bush has joined the leaders of Britain and Ireland in an appeal to Northern Ireland political leaders to come back to the negotiating table and finalize a peace settlement in the divided province.

Northern Ireland's local political institutions have been frozen since October of last year, when pro-British unionists walked out of the power-sharing legislature over suspected Irish Republican Army spying on lawmakers.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, the three leaders reaffirmed their support for the Good Friday Agreement that set the stage for the provincial legislature and IRA disarmament.

In the statement, the British and Irish governments promised to publish a new plan to restart negotiations. The new plan will include proposals on justice and policing, political institutions and human rights.

"We call upon Northern Ireland's political representatives, community and business leaders, and citizens from all walks of life to respond positively to the forthcoming statements," the statement said.

"In seizing this opportunity, Northern Ireland will serve as a model to the world for dialogue and negotiation."

The three leaders said that both Protestant unionists and Catholic republicans must make a "complete and irrevocable" break from paramilitary activity.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish leader Bertie Ahern plan to publish their plan on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. An IRA response is expected soon after.

Political parties backing the peace plan welcomed the joint statement.

"We would be delighted to see the problem of continuing paramilitary activity -- and indeed the continuing existence of paramilitary organizations -- to be successfully resolved," said Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble

Mark Durkan, leader of the moderate republican Social Democratic and Labor Party, called for an immediate recommitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

"There can be no ambivalence about what a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means entails," he said.

Although the threat of terrorism has largely subsided on the British mainland, police say there is still concern about republican splinter groups opposed to the peace settlement.

On Wednesday, five men were each sentenced to between 16 and 22 years in prison for plotting and executing bomb attacks against entertainment districts and BBC offices on the mainland.

Several people were injured by the blasts in London and Birmingham last year and at trial, prosecutors said it was "nothing short of a miracle" that no one died.

The men belong to the dissident "Real IRA", the group responsible for the worst act of terrorism in Northern Ireland, the 1998 Omagh bombing.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.