Mowlam tells IRA: Don't wait for Labour

UIster spokeswoman makes clear commitment to peace process under a Blair government
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The Independent Online
Sinn Fein and the IRA have been urged by Mo Mowlam, the Labour Party's spokeswoman on Northern Ireland, not to wait for a change of government before declaring new ceasefire.

"They might as well do it now, and not wait for a Labour government," Ms Mowlam said in an interview for The Independent about Labour's plans for the Northern Irish peace process.

There is a fear that there would be new conditions if the Tories regained power, and a more right-wing Tory party faced heightened violence from the IRA. Mr Major has said, without divulging details, that he would want to push the peace process forward after the election.

Ms Mowlam is equally reticent about what she has in mind, but she is clear in her determination that the peace process will be given a push by a Blair government. The Labour leader is said to be very well briefed on the detail of Northern Ireland, with an intention of placing it high on his agenda, in spite of scepticism by the Unionists that he will allow it to distract him from his key objectives for the mainland.

Confidence-building measures Labour would introduce include the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights, discussions on a Bill of Rights, and early talks with the police following the Smith review of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with the setting of targets and objectives.

Ms Mowlam rejects an internal Ulster settlement on Unionist lines, and would seek better relations with Dublin. She would look again at the evidence for a fresh inquiry into the killings of Bloody Sunday, which is high on the Irish government's agenda.

"We want to make sure the talks are inclusive which is why we want Sinn Fein into them. It is important it is not just a devolved assembly with proportionality built in and rights protected. It is important there is a dimension of cross-border co-operation and it is equally important that the Westminster-Dublin strand - which often tends to be ignored - is part of that. We do not see the talks process as just Assembly-wide," she said.

The first sign of Labour's willingness to upset the Unionists and step out of the Government's shadow on Ulster came with the North report, which ministers refused to implement before the election, to the anger of Dublin.

Labour would implement the North report, proposing a statutory body to adjudicate on routes for the loyalist marching season. But an incoming Labour government would face the prospect of more violence when the loyalists march, in the late summer. She would have to rely on the Tory plans for a commisson to advise on which marches should go ahead, because it would take time to introduce the legislation. Labour has engaged in talks with Orange Lodges in its attempts to avert a repeat of the riots after the Drumcree march last summer, and it is seeking more community negotiators.

Ms Mowlam is hopeful that a willingness to talk will now translate into a more peaceful summer. She is keen to dispel the impression that Labour would be "soft" on the IRA but is wary of giving details of Labour's plans, to avoid fuelling false hopes by the nationalists for concessions.

"It is very difficult in the position in which we are caught now, where if we outline a whole host of things which are different, there is a tendency for people to say `we will hold on and wait'. That does give a chance for a spiral of violence.

"There is a chance of an unequivocal ceasefire by the IRA. There is a chance of Sinn Fein being brought into the talks process. My real central message is don't wait for a change of government because in relation to the kind of violence we have seen in the last 24 hours our position will not change."