Mowlam warns Unionists she will not `cherry pick' from proposals on RUC

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The Independent Online
MO MOWLAM defied Ulster Unionists yesterday with a clear warning that she will not "cherry pick" from the controversial Patten report on the future of policing in the province.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that although she would listen to criticism of the report's proposals, she was determined to implement them by December.

Ms Mowlam's tough line was expected to be echoed by Tony Blair last night at a private meeting in Bournemouth with David Trimble, the Unionist leader, aimed at pushing forward the stalled peace process.

Mr Trimble, the First Minister designate, renewed his attack on the Patten report at a Labour conference fringe meeting, claiming that it would "Balkanise" the police force in the province. The meeting was the first time Mr Trimble and Ms Mowlam had shared a platform since his hints that she should be replaced. The Ulster Unionist Party leader denied there was any personal rift between them.

He said plans to hand control of the force to local partnership boards would split it along sectarian lines and leave officers influenced by paramilitaries. Mr Trimble said the symbolism of the proposals to change the name of the RUC and axe its badge gave great cause for concern, though he was careful not to link the report with progress in the peace process.

However, Ms Mowlam made clear that while she had agreed to consult on the plans, she was not willing to undermine Chris Patten's work by reopening the whole issue. "I think Patten did a fair job and I would prefer not to cherry pick. I don't want to give the impression that everything is up for grabs," she said.

She said she was hopeful of a breakthrough in the peace talks, currently being conducted under the auspices of former US senator George Mitchell, as long as unionists and republicans dared to trust each other.

Mr Trimble said Sinn Fein had given his party no reason to trust it on decomissioning, but he did resurrect his offer of "sequencing" the creation of a Northern Ireland executive and some form of weapons handover. "If the commitments are there, we are prepared to look at sequencing. If there is a genuine commitment [to decomissioning] and if we think they are going to work, then we are prepared to look at it," he said. His remarks back up comments of some unionists that there should be a trial power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein followed by some form of weapons decommissioning by the IRA four weeks later.

Mr Trimble and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams are expected to meet at Stormont on Friday as part of Mr Mitchell's review.

Meanwhile, Andrew Mackay, the Tory Northern Ireland spokesman, said he was willing to accept Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness's invitation to a face-to-face discussion. Mr Mackay said: "Our position is that we have no respect for elected politicians who in practice have not renounced violence nor carried out decommissioning of illegally held weapons. However, that does not necessarily exclude me perhaps meeting some of those politicians and in fact my staff and Sinn Fein representatives have been in constructive contact about a meeting."

Notebook, page 8

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