Ministers qualified their warm welcome for the IRA's decision to end violence from midnight last night with a warning that the 90-day process of bringing Sinn Fein into direct talks could not begin until the cessation was publicly declared to be permanent.
Mr Major said after meetings with both ministerial colleagues and James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionists, that the IRA announcement now provided a 'very great chance' for peace. But he was adamant the IRA needed to confirm clearly that the ceasefire was permanent, in line with the joint declaration agreed between Dublin and London last December. He told ITN: 'I'm not hung up on a particular word. I am hung up on the concept of it being permanent.
'I don't mind if it is said that 'the armed struggle is over', 'the days of violence are gone for good'. But I do need to know that violence is ended for good and it isn't a temporary ceasefire.'
Earlier Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, declared: 'This is not just a piece of pedantry or nit-picking about a particular word.' In a reference to earlier remarks by John Hume, leader of the nationalist SDLP, Sir Patrick said it had been suggested that taken as a whole the IRA statement was intended to mean the ceasefire was permanent.
'But this is so important a matter that the Prime Minister and we believe it ought not to be left at large or able to be the subject of discussion and argument.'
Mr Major also confirmed that discussion about the IRA's release of arms would await the 'talks about talks' that would follow the quarantine period once the IRA had satisfied Downing Street's demand. And ministers envisage scaling down the British Army presence on the streets as military commanders become confident that the terrorist 'threat' is lifted.
THE DICTIONARY DEFINITIONS
Complete - entire, finished, thorough
Permanent - lasting or meant to last forever
Cessation - a ceasing or stopping
End - conclusionReuse content