Major fears new `phoney' ceasefire warning

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A "phoney" IRA ceasefire would not give Sinn Fein access to the political talks now being held between the Government and the parties of Northern Ireland, John Major said yesterday.

On the eve of London talks with John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, John Major told BBC television's On the Record he was not optimistic about another ceasefire, though he could not rule one out.

"But what I do not wish to see would be a phoney ceasefire - a ceasefire simply to score public relations victories and to try and have Sinn Fein parachuted into the talks without actually giving up the violence which has sustained the IRA for so long," Mr Major said.

In retrospect, he added, the last ceasefire had been "a phoney", even though the Government had thought it was real at the time.

"What did we subsequently find out, we subsequently found out [that] within days of declaring the ceasefire, Sinn Fein/ IRA were filling garages in London with Semtex and explosives. That's not a genuine ceasefire."

The tone of Mr Major's remarks suggest a further hardening of the British line fol- lowing the recent unilateral Downing Street statement, replying to overtures from John Hume, leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, and from Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein.

But that will not surprise Mr Bruton. It is believed that the scope for British initiatives is fast diminishing, if not gone, in the run-up to the general election and much of today's Downing Street talks will be concentrating on European issues.

With Sinn Fein/IRA requiring a timetable guarantee for entry into political talks, Mr Major said yesterday that he would not take a "fake" ceasefire path again. "We've done that, and we were betrayed by Sinn Fein/IRA who said one thing when they were doing another. This time it needs to be real."

Asked how long he would wait before accepting a ceasefire was real, he said: "I will not wait for too long to see if it is to be sustainable - I am not going to give you a time. It depends on actions, not on the passage of a few days or weeks."

That credibility would have to be tested by intelligence reports from the security services, rather than the passage of time, or the words of Sinn Fein/IRA.

As for his decision to make last month's unilateral statement, the Prime Minister said: "If I had not published our position, in the conspiracy atmosphere that so often exists in Northern Ireland politics, many people would have feared that we were doing a backstairs deal with Sinn Fein and with the IRA. We were not."