Historic union for peace brokers of Ulster

TONY BLAIR, who drove through the Northern Ireland peace agreement, and John Major, who can claim to have started the process, met in Belfast yesterday in an unprecedented show of cross party unity behind a "yes" vote in the coming referendum.

The meeting of the current and former prime ministers came in a momentous day for the Good Friday accord. Sinn Fein sources revealed that the party's National Executive was to propose its acceptance at the Ard Fheis at the weekend. And news also came overnight that councils across Northern Ireland, including Ballymena, seen as being in the Paisleyite heartland, had voted to accept the deal.

The Prime Minister arrived in Belfast in driving rain for a brief but significant series of meetings. He and Mr Major took part in a question and answer session at Belfast's Waterford Hall during which they repeatedly stressed that the pupils, from 11 schools across the province, were the future, and they also stressed the need to break away from the divisions and sectarianism of the past.

Mr Blair's next two meetings involved two of the thorniest problems facing the peace agreement: the coming Protestant marching season and the fears about the proposed reform of the RUC and the early release of convicted terrorists. Mr Blair met members of the recently constituted Parades Commission and then went on to meet police officers at a training college. He stressed that prisoners would only be freed if the organisations they belong to permanently disown violence. The RUC, he said, would be reformed but with full consent to enable to adjust them to "policing in more normal times".

Earlier, Mr Major had delivered a ringing endorsement of the agreement in a speech to the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce: "I do not wish to see this generation and the next relive the miseries of the past ... A `yes' vote would be a huge advance. It is the right vote for the future, bringing with it the chance of a settlement which had eluded the people of the British Isles for 400 years."

Mr Major declared that "a `no' vote will be a `no' to hope". It is the desire of "those who cling rigidly to past certainties and cast casually aside the opportunities ahead".

He continued: "If the people of Ulster now say no to what has been agreed by David Trimble, John Hume and John Alderdice, let alone the political representatives of the main paramilitary organisations, to whom will the Province say yes? ... who believes that Ian Paisley and Robert McCartney can achieve terms more likely to gain widespread community support?"

But Mr Major sounded a warning note over a decommissioning of weapons: "Now the IRA have cast doubt on that and insist they will not decommission their weapons. No one can be certain if their statement is aimed at their own internal divisions, whether it's bluff or whether they mean it. But they must know they cannot cherry pick from the agreement that was reached."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee