Hume vows to fight on

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John Hume MP, leader of the Northern Ireland nationalist Social Democrat and Labour Party, ended months of speculation yesterday by announcing that he would stand again in the general election.

As he celebrated his sixtieth birthday at a family party, Mr Hume made clear his "total commitment" to continuing his search for peace in the province.

He promised to keep up the work at Westminster "and other forums" until there is a negotiated settlement for Northern Ireland.

Mr Hume has been MP for the Londonderry seat of Foyle since 1983, but there have been persistent reports that his health has been affected by the strains of the peace process. Three weeks ago, he added to the speculation by saying he was undecided whether or not to seek re-election.

His announcement, on the eve of inter-party talks in Belfast, could inject new life into the faltering peace process. Mr Hume is continuing his shuttle diplomacy with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and the government in a bid to restore an "unequivocal" IRA ceasefire.

Dr Joe Hendron, SDLP MP for West Belfast, said it was important for the party's leader to stay at Westminster. "I am pleased he is going to stand. He will have no difficulty in winning the seat again."

Mr Hume is expected to face a strong challenge from Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin.

The SDLP leader has made no secret of his impatience with the adversarial politics of Westminster, in contrast with the European Parliament, of which he has been a member since 1979.

But he accepts that any change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will only come about in the House of Commons. "I will be there until there is a negotiated settlement," he said yesterday.

Jeffery Donaldson, who set up the Unionist office in Washington, was yesterday chosen as Ulster Unionist Party candidate for the safe seat of Lagan Valley in succession to James Molyneaux, the former party leader.