In his first full public reaction to the sudden postponement of his scheduled recent summit with John Bruton, the Irish Taoiseach, the Prime Minister said it had been a "setback" but not a crisis. The summit was deferred by the Irish after Sinn Fein made it clear it could not accept the terms under which an international commission on arms decommissioning would be set up.
On the eve of private discussions in Majorca with Mr Bruton, Mr Major reaffirmed that the combination of separate political talks with each of the parties and an international body to oversee decommissioning was the "best way forward".
He told visiting Irish journalists at Downing Street: "I am not looking for surrenders, I am not looking for people coming out, throwing their weapons down at the feet of the British.
"That is not remotely what I have in mind. All I am concerned about is getting those arms out of commission because that is the key point in getting people to the all-party round-table talks that are so essential, and ultimately getting people to accept an agreement that will be willingly accepted by all the people concerned."
He said he did not care how the decommissioning was done so long as it was credible and verifiable.
Mr Major's remarks were in sharp contrast to those of Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, who predicted last night that the Northern Ireland peace process was doomed to collapse if the Government continued to insist on arms decommissioning by the IRA before all-party talks.
Mr Major declared that the sooner full all-party talks began the better. "I would be perfectly happy to do so this afternoon if that were feasible," he said.
"But in the reality of politics, there is no purpose whatsoever in calling all-party talks unless there is a pretty good chance that all the parties are going to be there if we were to do so."
He said the majority parties in the Province representing the majority of people just would not go to the conference table until Sinn Fein/IRA had begun decommissioning. He pointed to a recent poll in the Irish News which showed that 90 per cent of Protestants and 33 per cent of Catholics believed the decommissioning of IRA arms should be a precondition for the inclusion of Sinn Fein in all party talks.
Broken down into party allegiance, not only was that more than 90 per cent of Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist support, it was 73 per cent of Alliance Party support and a substantial amount - 33 per cent - of Social Democratic and Labour Party and Nationalist support.
Mr Adams said in Belfast: "The placing of preconditions on the road to dialogue is indeed a formula for disaster and the British government have shown no willingness at all to lift that new precondition.
"It is my view that if the British government stick to their position, as it appears they will, then the peace process - or this phase of the peace process - is doomed to collapse."Reuse content