No signs of thaw in Anglo-Irish chill

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The Independent Online
Anglo-Irish relations remained as chilly as the weather at the weekend, with Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring accusing Britain of trying to "divide and conquer" his government. Sinn Fein, meanwhile, declared that it not take part in any new assembly.

Mr Spring made it clear that Dublin had registered a strong protest both against John Major's proposal of an election as the next stage of the peace process and against his alleged lack of consultation with Dublin.

He said on Irish radio: "The British know full well how we feel after the last few days. We have made it very clear, and we will not be treated in this manner for the future." Mr Spring's words will not help the atmosphere at his Anglo-Irish conference meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, on Thursday.

Mr Spring, asked about alleged British briefings that his position differed from that of the Taoiseach, John Bruton, said: "That's been an old British tactic down through the years. That's not just an Irish experience; we have seen this in many parts of the world. The British set out to divide and conquer. They have made attempts before to divide us and they have not succeeded."

While Unionist parties have warmly welcomed the election move, it is clear that all sections of Nationalist opinion were offended by Mr Major's proposal and the way in which he made it. The belief that he was at least partly motivated by the hope of securing Unionist support in the Commons is now common currency among Nationalist politicians.

An expression of defiance and opposition came from Sinn Fein yesterday, with Martin McGuinness assuring thousands of at a Londonderry rally to commemorate the Bloody Sunday shootings: "We are not going to be part of their assembly."

Mr McGuinness added: "The Unionists want their assembly and the British Government wants to give them their assembly, harking back to the days of the old Stormont. No matter what they say, that is exactly what they are doing. Well, we are not going to give them their new Stormont."

The Social Democratic and Labour Party deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, also attacked the Government, accusing Mr Major of trying to buy Unionist votes and claiming: "He has done the dirty on the Irish government in a very public and humiliating way." The SDLP leader, John Hume, is to meet Mr Major tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Mr Mallon also attacked Tony Blair, saying the Labour leader "should begin to realise that you cannot solve problems simply by running in the slipstream of the Prime Minister".

He said: "I find it very difficult to understand the situation in the House of Commons, on the single most important issue affecting Northern Ireland, that Mr Blair and the Labour Party seem to be willy-nilly supporting the Government position."

Donald Dewar, the Labour Chief Whip, said he was sorry Mr Mallon felt as strongly as he did on the issue. He said Labour took a "totally" bipartisan approach to Ulster and wanted to talk to all the groups involved to move things on.

Mo Mowlam, Labour's Northern Ireland spokeswoman, tried to assuage SDLP anger on Saturday by criticising John Major for failing to consult them. But she went on: "That does not mean in any way we will split from our bipartisan approach."