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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot