Dublin gives a cautious welcome to low-key PM

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The Independent Online
DAVID McKITTRICK

Ireland Correspondent

Irish ministers gave a general welcome to John Major's performance in the Commons, though they made clear that many points of political difference remained between the two governments.

Dublin clearly envisages a period of intensive Anglo-Irish negotiations before Mr Major and the Taoiseach, John Bruton, meet at a summit later this month. The most difficult point to resolve will centre on Mr Major's preference for an election and Dublin's proposal for Dayton-style talks.

In Belfast, Mr Major's Commons performance was viewed as non-confrontational, low-key, and designed not to slam any doors in the precarious peace process. It was noted that the Prime Minister, while mentioning his preference for an election, was by no means dogmatic that it was the only way forward.

His stipulation that ministers would no longer be prepared to meet Sinn Fein was scarcely a surprise, given that Dublin had already announced a similar approach. Dublin sources made clear, however, that officials would remain in contact with Sinn Fein, and said that such contacts had in fact never been broken off over the weekend.

A slight jarring note came from the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, who accused Mr Major of "betraying the peace process" by refusing to move forward on talks with Sinn Fein.

He said: "What the British did was to continue with a war policy, to try and outmanoeuvre and divide. At no point during the last 18 months did John Major show any potential to actually move this forward. Indeed John Major betrayed the peace process and betrayed the people of Britain and the people of Ireland."

But Mr Bruton, in contrast to his earlier criticisms of Mr Major's strategy as mistaken, last night described Mr Major's Commons statement as "constructive". The Irish cabinet minister Proinsias de Rossa also said there were reasons for encouragement from Mr Major's statement.

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