Irish poll blames London for Ulster peace deadlock

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The Independent Online
The British Government is, in the eyes of southern Irish opinion, lagging far behind in its battle with Sinn Fein for the moral high ground, according to an opinion poll.

The poll, reported in the Dublin Sunday Independent, found 11 per cent of respondents blamed Sinn Fein for what was described as the stalemate in the peace process, while 50 per cent blamed the British government. A further 15 per cent blamed Unionists.

The result, which is broadly in line with the findings of a poll of a year ago, will provide little cheer for a Government which has been trying to convince opinion at home and abroad that Sinn Fein and the IRA are at fault. The poll provides evidence that, notwithstanding the IRA's sporadic bombing attacks, Irish nationalists disapprove of the Government's handling of the peace process. A further gap in perception, illustrating how far apart the various camps are, was demonstrated at the weekend conference of the Democratic Unionist party.

Its leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, attacked John Major, saying he was preparing to sur- render to terrorists. "His word is not his determined bond. It is rather his disposable baggage. Mr Major is in the surrendering business to the IRA and its bedfellows John Hume, Dublin and the White House."

Mr Hume, leader of the SDLP, said an unequivocal IRA cessation of violence was still possible, adding that he would seek an early meeting with Mr Major. He has said he held a "quite constructive" meeting with the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, last week, and wishes to discuss it with the Prime Minister.

He added on BBC television's Breakfast With Frost: "My experience tells me that there is a major opportunity to bring about a complete end to violence." He said that if minds were applied to it, there could be a ceasefire by Christmas.

Yesterday, the Northern Ireland political development minister, Michael Ancram, would not be drawn on how long any new IRA cessation would have to be before ministers concluded it was genuine. "The time taken to make that judgement must depend not only on the words but on the actions, so it could be very short or it could be rather long."

A spokesman for George Mitchell, the American politician who chairs the Stormont political talks, yesterday denied allegations that one of his staff had been in contact with republicans.

The reports had alleged links between the former senator's chief of staff, Martha Pope, and the senior Belfast republican Gerry Kelly. A spokesman said: "The allegation is absolutely and totally false. Ms Pope has never met Mr Kelly."

t Several RUC officers were injured at the weekend in clashes with loyalists as they protected Catholic churchgoers in Ballymena, Co Antrim. A gang of around 500 loyalist protested against Catholics attending Mass in the town. Missiles and at least one petrol bomb were thrown at police, and a bus was later set on fire.