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British Minister Says New N. Irish Peace Deal May Be 'Weeks Away'

British Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy said Monday that a breakthrough in the long-term deadlocked Northern Ireland political process may be just weeks away.

Murphy said he thought the Democratic Unionists (DUP), the main Protestant party in Northern Ireland, was prepared to share power with Sinn Fein and a major Irish Republic Army (IRA) decommissioning move could be imminent.

"Fundamental political change is within our grasp. The finishing line is within sight, but this is an unusual race -- unless everyone wins, there are no winners at all," Murphy said.

"I would hope we are talking about weeks rather than months," he told a meeting of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body in Wales.

"I wouldn't want to be any more specific than that other than to say that intensive discussions are going on behind the scenes", he said.

Also on the day, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern told journalists in Dublin that the power-sharing self-rule assembly and government in Northern Ireland would have to be restored by early next year so as to avoid an "intolerable" drift into 2006.

But he said: "I think that all of us agree that we've only a matter of weeks ... Whether we succeed or not is, I'm afraid, still an issue for wide speculation."

Top-level talks among the main political parties in Northern Ireland and aimed at restoring the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland ended without agreement last month.

It was then reported that the issue of how to run the Northern Ireland Assembly was proving much more problematic than the decommissioning of weapons by paramilitary groups during the talks

Northern Ireland's power-sharing government was suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of an Irish Republic Army (IRA)'s spy ring operating inside government buildings.

The parties went into the assembly election last November against the background of a deadlocked political process.

Northern Ireland has been plagued by three decades of political and sectarian violence between Protestants committed to keeping the union with Britain and Catholics who want to end it and unite with the Irish Republic.

(Xinhua News Agency October 19, 2004)

New Talks Open to Break N.Irish Impasse
N. Ireland's Peace Road Rougher
British, Irish PMs to Meet over N. Irish Poll
New N.Ireland Deadlock as IRA Arms Move Rebuffed
IRA to Break off Contact with Disarmament Group
IRA Says Sorry to Civilian Victims
Masked Gunmen Mark N.Ireland Protestant Anniversary
IRA Says It Takes Historic Step to Disarm
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