Hague 'is harming Ulster process'

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR angrily accused William Hague of undermining the fragile Northern Ireland peace process last night after the Tory leader attacked the Government's response to recent IRA violence. Downing Street said the Prime Minister was "dismayed and disappointed" at Mr Hague's criticism of the Government's ruling last week that the IRA ceasefire was still intact.

Yesterday Mr Hague said the decision was "a fudge and a sham" and accused Mr Blair of "a betrayal of trust of the people of Northern Ireland". Following the IRA's banning of six young men from the province, Mr Hague renewed his party's call for a halt to the release of terrorist prisoners.

Mr Blair's spokesman said Mr Hague's remarks were "very unhelpful" at such a critical time. Mr Blair told aides he deplored the Tories' "opportunistic" and "irresponsible" approach to the peace process. He said Labour could have brought down John Major's government, which depended on the votes of the Ulster Unionists, by playing politics over Ireland. "[Mr Blair] is surprised that Mr Hague, as a member of the Major government, does not recognise the considerable value that John Major derived from that support," the spokesman added.

While Downing Street condemned the actions of paramilitary groups, it said that during the last IRA ceasefire, between August 1994 and February 1996, there were 185 republican punishment beatings, 110 loyalist beatings and 17 loyalist shootings. Since its renewal in August 1997, 114 beatings and 32 shootings have been carried out by republicans and 183 beatings and 81 shootings attributed to loyalists.

In a speech in the province, Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary, denied appeasing the IRA. "What we're doing is not about appeasement or turning a blind eye, but about helping this society end its historic conflict." She condemned "kangaroo courts of any kind" and said juvenile delinquency should be dealt with by the courts, not by paramilitary groups.

But she added: "Life in Northern Ireland is sometimes not as straightforward as it would be elsewhere. When the IRA ordered teenagers to leave Dungannon last week, some at least - a small number in the local community - supported that action because they said they could not support the police."

Ms Mowlam promised that a shake-up of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to be proposed next week in a report by Chris Patten, the former Tory cabinet minister, would be handled sensitively, and appealed to political parties in the province to take part in next week's review of the Good Friday Agreement.

Last night Mr Hague insisted the cross-party approach had not broken down. He told BBC Radio: "There are people being killed, maimed, beaten, shot and driven out of the country... Of course we mention it. It's the duty of the Opposition to do so."