Tories inciting Unionists to undermine peace, say Labour

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR has angrily accused the Conservative Party of undermining his efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland. As Sinn Fein warned yesterday that it was "entirely out of the question" for the IRA to surrender its arms before next May's deadline, it emerged that Mr Blair wants William Hague to "rein in" Andrew Mackay, his Northern Ireland spokesman.

At meetings between Mr Blair and Labour backbenchers last week, MPs accused Mr Mackay of "winding up" Ulster Unionists who opposed the Good Friday Agreement. They said this had made it harder for David Trimble, the party leader, to win support for the devolution proposals which the Unionists rejected earlier this month.

The Prime Minister backed the MPs' complaints. "The Tories have always played games over Northern Ireland," he said. "Look at the history books. They just want to make trouble for the Government."

Mr Blair is said to be furious that the Tories backed Ulster Unionist attempts to amend the emergency legislation on the devolution plans, despite Mr Hague insisting that the Opposition maintains its bipartisan approach to the peace process.

Other cabinet ministers attacked Mr Hague's approach in talks with Labour backbenchers. Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said: "We must make the Tories pay for this in the long run."

Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, endorsed comments by Peter Temple-Morris, the former Tory MP for Leominster who defected to Labour, that the Conservatives had "behaved disgracefully".