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The shadow Ulster Secretary explains why his party broke the bi- partisan approach to the peace process
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The Independent Culture
A BI-PARTISAN policy in Northern Ireland is an important part of a lasting settlement in that troubled province. However, it is the duty of an Opposition to scrutinise the Government and, where necessary, to speak out. We cannot give them a blank cheque and nor did they when they were in Opposition. Labour voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act at critical times in the fight against the IRA. But still an overall bi-partisan policy held.

We supported the Belfast Agreement as a significant step forward, but were not comfortable with some aspects of it, particularly the early release of terrorist murderers which we found sickening. Nevertheless we accepted that this was part of an overall agreement and so reluctantly consented to legislation. That is why we supported the Government's legislation last Monday.

We then sought to amend a fatal flaw. The Bill merely states that Mo Mowlam only has to take into account whether paramilitaries are co-operating with the decommissioning body before prisoners could be released.

Sadly our amendment was rejected, even though the Prime Minister has said: "It is essential that organisations that want to benefit from the early release of prisoners should give up violence. Decommissioning is part of that'.

The Bill was fatally flawed without our amendment and we were forced to vote against it last night. We will oppose it in the Lords.

It must be pointed out again that this has become a matter of trust in the Prime Minister, because without his assurances on decommissioning many ordinary decent people would not have voted yes in the referendum, and now they feel badly let down.

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