Politics: Labour's Ulster peace plan intact

The bi-partisan approach to the Northern Ireland peace process will not be broken off in spite of the Tory criticism of Tony Blair for inviting Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, to Downing Street.

On the eve of renewed cross-party talks in Belfast, the visit was attacked by Andrew Mackay, the Tory spokesman on Northern Ireland, who said the Tories would not have invited Mr Adams to Downing Street on 11 December if they had still been in power. But Lord Parkinson, the Tory chairman, said on GMTV: "I don't think this does herald the end of bipartisanship. What it means is that if the Government makes a mistake, we reserve the right to point out that we believe that it is a mistake. But we back them in their search for a permanent peace."

His remarks could limit the Tories scope for using the visit as a weapon against the Government. The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, accused Mr Blair of inviting Mr Adams after a U-turn. Mr Trimble said the Prime Minister had gone to meet Mr Adams in Belfast to avoid the embarrassment of a meeting at Number 10, but had changed his mind.

"In the last week there has been a lot of whingeing from Sinn Fein and indeed sabre-rattling, threats to go back to what they know best, and so the Government is making the announcement now in the hope of massaging the egos of these former terrorist leaders," Mr Trimble said on GMTV.

Mr Trimble intends to protest to the Irish foreign minister David Andrews after saying his government was seeking a settlement which included powerful cross-border bodies with powers "not unlike a government". Unionists have branded the idea as unacceptable and smacking of an "embryonic all-Ireland government".

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