Blair offers failsafe deal to Trimble

Click to follow
TONY BLAIR is to make concessions to the Ulster Unionists in an attempt to boost David Trimble's chances of selling the peace deal proposed last Friday to critics within his Ulster Unionist Party.

The Prime Minister, who will make a Commons statement on the Irish peace process today, is ready to meet some of the Ulster Unionist demands for a "fairer" fall back position if republicans do not keep their side of the bargain by starting to decommission their weapons.

Ministers and others took heart yesterday from the unexpectedly trouble- free start to the annual Drumcree march, when Orange Order leaders took determined steps to prevent members and supporters from coming into conflict with police and troops.

Orangemen made a token protest to a senior RUC officer at Drumcree bridge, where a huge security boundary has been put in place, making use of metal containers, barbed wire and water obstacles.

Orangemen in their sashes acted as marshals, moving people several hundred yards back from the barricades, ditches and barbed wire. Later Harold Gracey, the Portadown Orange Lodge's district master, told would-be trouble- makers: "You are not welcome if all you have come to do is spread trouble and violence. Keep it peaceful. It is what I want, it is what the Grand Lodge of Ireland wants and I believe it is what the people want."

There is speculation that Orange leaders believe they have received assurances from Mr Blair that, if they avert trouble at Drumcree and help avoid disruption elsewhere in Northern Ireland, then at some stage the ban on the march could be lifted.

The Prime Minister may also be hoping that his intention to move Mo Mowlam, who has served for more than two years as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, may also have a positive effect on the Protestant mood. It is crucial to the Government's plans that the Ulster Unionists should come to accept last week's deal.

Under the British and Irish governments' proposals, produced after five days of exhausting negotiations, Sinn Fein would be included in a devolved Belfast government from July 15, after which the IRA would begin to decommission arms within weeks. Under a "failsafe clause", the Government would automatically suspend the new executive and assembly if the commitments are not met.

After a hostile reaction from the Unionists, British ministers now accept that they will need to make some changes to the fall back procedure.

They concede that it currently gives the impression that Unionists would be punished if the IRA failed to disarm, since the assembly and executive would be suspended while their future was reviewed. "David Trimble will need some changes in order to sell it to his own side," a senior Government source said last night. "We are prepared to look again at the fail-safe mechanisms."

However, the source suggested that Mr Blair would not meet all the Unionist demands. "At the end of the day, it will be up to the Ulster Unionists to decide whether they want peace," he said. His comments followed a weekend telephone call between Mr Trimble and Mr Blair, when the Unionist leader voiced various objections, which he later repeated during television appearances.

Mr Trimble said the deal,amounted to allowing the IRA to hold politicians to ransom. He added: "I am not optimistic about this. I have said to the Prime Minister that there are serious problems with this. I have great difficulty in seeing how we can proceed with this.

"That leaves my colleagues with a very great concern - a lot of them think this is a con job by Gerry Adams and thatTony has been deceived. I share these doubts. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness did a very good job of deceiving people about their plans."

Andrew Mackay, the Tory's Northern Ireland spokesman, said: "What worries us is that the Prime Minister initially said, `If anyone lets us down, we will pull the plug'. That seems very unfair on the democrats, because it means the constitutional parties will lose their assembly and their executive just because the paramilitaries have not decommissioned."

Calm protest, page 3

Leading Article,

Review page 3