No going back, Blair tells Irish parliament

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THE REPUBLIC of Ireland's political system took Tony Blair to its heart yesterday, affection and hard political calculation combining to produce a warm welcome for the Prime Minister.

Both houses of the Irish parliament, the Dail and Senate, together gave a standing ovation to the man they believed had made a huge contribution to the peace process.

The invitation to Mr Blair to address the Dail and Senate, an honour never before extended to a British prime minister, was designed partly as a reward for his part in putting together the Good Friday Agreement and partly as an effort to build even closer relations with a prime minister thought likely to be in office for a decade or more. The prospects for young people dominated the rhetoric of Mr Blair's speech. He declared: "My sense of urgency and mission comes from the children in Northern Ireland. I reflect on the sheer waste of children taught to hate when I believe passionately that children should be taught to think."

In a determinedly upbeat address, Mr Blair said: "Let us not underestimate how far we have come. And let us agree that we have come too far to go back now."

Afterwards Mr Blair, delighted with his reception, said: "It is important now that we crack on with this - that we get north-south bodies agreed, get the departments agreed, that we are able to make real progress - and that we measure that progress in days rather than weeks or months."

However, Mr Blair conceded that no breakthroughs had been made on paramilitary arms or governmental ar-rangements in Belfast.

Mr Blair's day of talks in Belfast on Wednesday is seen as the beginning of a reinvolvement by the Prime Minister in a process that has often relied for progress on his personal intervention.

The visit came on the day that two IRA men, jailed for their involvement in the murder of two British soldiers, were released from the Maze Prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

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