Irish Peace Talks: Major leads chorus of praise to Blair

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THE warmest congratulations were offered to the Prime Minister by John Major, who is credited with kicking off the current peace process soon after he took office at the end of 1990.

Yesterday's agreement owed much to the foundations laid by the Major- Reynolds Downing Street declaration of December 1993, and the Framework Documents drawn up with John Bruton in February 1995.

Mr Major said last night of Mr Blair: "I warmly congratulate him. He has taken risks. It was right to give priority to this. Here was part of the United Kingdom where bloodshed and mayhem had been let loose for far too long." Mr Major said attempts had been made for a long time to bring together people of very sharply different views - attempting "to quell hostilities that have lasted literally for generations."

He added: "This is the best beacon of hope we've had for a very long time." He hoped the people of Northern Ireland would now go on to give the package a massive majority in the coming referendum.

The European Commission - which has so far contributed pounds 215m directly to Northern Ireland in a Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation, with an additional pounds 71m top-up this year - hailed the deal as a tribute to the "persistence and determination" of the negotiators on all sides.

Another founding member of the process, Peter Brooke, who was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when Mr Major took over from Margaret Thatcher, and remained in the post until 1992, said: "I always hoped it would happen and I am delighted we have got there."