Major in upbeat mood over Irish peace process

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The Independent Online
John Major visited Belfast and Dublin yesterday to deliver an upbeat assessment of the peace process and reproach Sinn Fein and the IRA for refusing to decommission weapons.

In Dublin, he held a lengthy meeting with the Irish Taoiseach, John Bruton, after which it was made clear that the two leaders had once again agreed to differ on the decommissioning issue.

The talks are also believed to have touched on the idea of a new Belfast assembly. The British government is anxious to secure Irish support for an assembly which it believes may provide a way through the decommissioning impasse. The two northern nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party, are however against the idea.

Speaking after the meeting, Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, said he was fairly confident the two governments would succeed in meeting their timetable of moving on from the decommissioning issue and opening all party talks by the beginning of February.

In Belfast, Mr Major said huge progress had been made towards turning a ceasefire into a permanent peace. He said much more progress could be made next year: "It is an opportunity which we have not had for many years, which may not readily reappear, and I will do all I can to carry it forward."

Condemning the recent killings of alleged drug-dealers in Belfast, Mr Major said that if the IRA were responsible it was the clearest indication yet of the need for decommissioning weaponry. Speaking of republicans, he said: "If those talking about peace over the past 18 months or so are genuine in what they are saying, then they can prove that very clearly by proving that they wish to take the gun out of politics by doing it. I hope they will."

Sinn Fein and the IRA were the same organisation and attempts to separate the two were laughable, he said, adding: "They are trying to maintain a fiction which I think most people in Northern Ireland will find laughable - that Sinn Fein and the IRA are wholly separate organisations. We know that not to be true and the people of Northern Ireland know that not to be true."

t Two Scottish soldiers, James Fisher, 27, and Mark Wright, 22, jailed for life for the murder of a teenager shot dead in Belfast, yesterday lost their appeal at the Northern Ireland High Court.