The measures, announced by the Prime Minister during a brief visit to Belfast, had the unusual distinction of receiving warm welcomes from both the Irish government and the mainstream Ulster Unionist party.
Although Mr Major insisted that more assurance was needed from Sinn Fein on the permanence of the IRA ceasefire, he took the important symbolic step of announcing the ending of the six-year-old broadcasting restrictions on the republicans and on extreme loyalists. Within minutes, Sinn Fein leaders were being interviewed live on television and radio. Spokesmen such as Martin McGuinness and Tom Hartley repeatedly refused to fulfil Mr Major's demand for a declaration that the IRA campaign was over 'in all circumstances, for all time', but they clearly regarded Mr Major's move as the Government's first substantive reaction to the IRA cessation.
The Government's response came in three parts. First, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, announced that 10 cross-border roads were to be reopened in Co Fermanagh. This followed public calls from the Irish government for a phased opening of the approximately 144 roads which have been sealed by the Army during the Troubles. Next, Mr Major told a news conference in Stormont Castle that, on the issue of permanence, republicans were 'nearly there'. He said he wanted them to make clear, in unambiguous words of their own choosing, that they had ended violence for good.
The broadcasting restrictions, he said, were no longer serving the purposes for which they were intended. He added: 'We are now in very different circumstances from those of 1988, when the restrictions came in.' He challenged paramilitary groups to use the opportunity to make broadcasts committing themselves to peaceful methods only.
The Prime Minister's final point, most welcomed by Unionists, was that the outcome of future political negotiations would be submitted to the Northern Ireland electorate in a referendum.
The Ulster Unionist spokesman Reg Empey applauded that as a recognition that the people of Northern Ireland would have self-determination. And this point was by no means displeasing to the nationalists of the Irish government and the Social Democratic and Labour Party. The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, made clear in a statement that his government intended to run a simultaneous referendum in the south on the same issue.
The SDLP leader, John Hume, who has for years proposed such a double referendum, endorsed that approach. He said: 'I want whatever we agree to at the table approved by the people north and south in the one day. That would be the first time the people of Ireland as a whole would have given their recognition to whatever agreement emerges.'
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