Major returns fire across the water

Ulster on the edge: Ministers struggle to salvage the peace process amid party acrimony
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The Independent Online
John Major last night warned John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, that his attacks on the Government for allowing the Orangemen's march to go ahead were "extremely unhelpful" and had not advanced the peace progress.

Mr Bruton, however, was unrepentant, saying he would make the same comments again because they were "self- evidently true".

The Prime Minister said he would speak to Mr Bruton "in the next few days" about the Taoiseach's angry intervention over the way the Royal Ulster Constabulary handled the violent protests against the march.

But, as both Dublin and London sought to repair the damage relations between them - now at their lowest ebb for years - Mr Major backed the U-turn by the Chief Constable of the RUC, Sir Hugh Annesley, and denied political interference.

Mr Major said on BBC's Panorama last night that the Chief Constable would be at an intergovernmental conference, expected to be held on Thursday, "to tell the Irish, looking into their eyes, that he made the operation decisions and that what they had said was mistaken".

Describing his talks on the telephone last week with Mr Bruton as "very frank", Mr Major said: "We know one another very well, well enough not to bother with the niceties, well enough to say precisely what we both think - and we did. I believe it was extremely unhelpful of him to go public later in the way that he did and that did not advance progress one wit, but that is behind us."

He dismissed as "mistakes" the comments by Mr Bruton and Cardinal Cahal Daley, the Primate of All Ireland, who said he felt the British Government had "betrayed" the nationalists. "Both those comments would have been better not made."

Mr John Hume, the SDLP leader, praised Mr Bruton's response to events in Northern Ireland as "very strong, very powerful and very clear".

Sir Patrick Mayhew yesterday ordered a review of parades in Ulster in an attempt to defuse tensions during the province's marching season.