Exclusions lifted on alleged IRA terrorists

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Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, yesterday lifted exclusion orders against 10 alleged Irish terrorists in a move that threatened to deepen Ulster Unionist distrust for the Government.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, took a more cautious approach, and is reviewing 56 exclusion orders under his jurisdiction. Home Office sources denied there was any split between Mr Howard and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Officials said the Home Secretary would consider lifting the exclusion orders carefully "on a case-by-case basis".

That contrasted sharply with the decision by Sir Patrick to lift the 10 exclusion orders under his control, which was seen as a response to the intense pressure by the Irish Government to show a more conciliatory approach to the IRA in response to the ceasefire.

Dublin has become increasingly anxious about the failure of the Northern Ireland Secretary to make more progress in the contacts between Sinn Fein and British Government officials.

The decision was taken at the Cabinet committee on Northern Ireland, chaired by John Major. Although Mr Howard and Sir Patrick are members of the committee, there were suspicions at Westminster that the Home Secretary, a right-winger, is more reluctant to make gestures in the peace process.

The strategy was strongly endorsed by John Rowe, the QC responsible for reviewing the Prevention of Terrorism and the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act. Mr Rowe recommended the Government retain the powers for exclusion orders and detention for up to seven days without charge.

"I have seen a clear indication that exclusion orders can deter excluded persons from engaging in terrorist acts in Great Britain. I should say that this was before the present ceasefires, but the force of the point remains: there is proof that exclusion orders have disrupted the terrorists' plans," Mr Rowe said in his review of the Act.

Exclusion orders banning the Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness from mainland Britain have already been lifted, but yesterday the Home Office was unable to say when the result of the general review is to be made. One opportunity will come on 22 March, when the Commons is due to renew the Act.

Alex Massey, a Sinn Fein councillor who was himself excluded from Britain for a time, said his party welcomed what he described as "these small steps towards ending the variety of repressive measures which govern this state".

But the Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley condemned the move: "The Government are reacting to threats. It's a sign of the dirty deal that was done, another instalment of the dirty deal as the framework document no doubt will be."

The Ulster Unionist leader, James Molyneaux, repeated that his party would not talk to the Government on the basis of the coming framework document, but said it would talk on the basis of a document which it was itself producing.

Asked in a BBC interview whether he would talk to the Government about the framework document, Mr Molyneaux responded: "We don't need to because we've read all about it. Nobody's in any doubt about what's in it and nobody likes what's in it so that is all over the dam."

Last night, Mr Major moved to reassure the Unionists that the forthcoming documents on the future of Northern Ireland would not be a nationalist agenda. In a letter to three Ulster Unionists he wrote: "... I fully support the Union. It is in no sense my aim to see it dismantled. The papers we put forward will be neither a Unionist agenda nor a nationalist agenda but fair and balanced proposals as a basis for negotiation."