The Taoiseach has hinted that arrangements may have to be put in place to carry the Northern Ireland peace process through the coming general election campaign in Britain. Bertie Ahern told journalists this afternoon that it was going to be difficult to get a comprehensive agreement on the outstanding issues of policing, disarmament and demilitarisation in the next couple of weeks.

He said that with the pending general election in Britain, the search for an accord would continue to be difficult. However, the Taoiseach said that the efforts to find a break-through would continue in contacts with the Northern parties and with the British Prime Minister. He warned that if it was not possible to get what he called a comprehensive arrangement, they would have to see what could be achieved to get the process safely over the next six months or so.

He said he thought that could be the priority for the weeks ahead. Mr Ahern was speaking at Government Buildings after a meeting with the Swedish Prime Minister, Mr Goran Persson. Mr Persson, who is the current President of the European Council, is on a tour of EU capitals in advance of next month's special summit meeting in Stockholm.

In a separate development, the North's Deputy First Minister has said that he believed David Trimble and himself would remain in office despite the current difficulties in the peace process. Seamus Mallon said that he and Mr Trimble would implement the devolved administrations programme for government. Both men were launching a revised version of the document, which sets a range of goals and targets. Earlier, Mr Mallon said that the SDLP would play its role on the policing issue if the British government moved towards accepting SDLP demands. He called on Sinn Féin to clarify its position on policing and decommissioning.