Blair flies to Belfast with 'carrot and stick'

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The Independent Online

Ulster Unionist Party activists were offered both carrots and sticks yesterday as the Government and the IRA offered help to David Trimble for tomorrow's UUP meeting.

Ulster Unionist Party activists were offered both carrots and sticks yesterday as the Government and the IRA offered help to David Trimble for tomorrow's UUP meeting.

It was announced that the international monitors, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, had carried out a second inspection of IRA arms dumps, as part of a series of confidence-building measures. Last night they confirmed they were satisfied the IRA had honoured its commitments and that the weapons could not be used.

Tony Blair flew to Belfast to meet Mr Trimble, the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, and others in advance of the Ulster Unionist meeting, which will hear calls for a withdrawal of the party from government in the absence of actual IRA arms decommissioning.

The Government hoped a feelgood factor would arise from Mr Blair's announcement in Belfast that an important Ministry of Defence order had been placed with the local shipyard, in the Protestant heartland of east Belfast.

But the Government also appeared intent on brandishing some sticks as well. Mr Blair twice stressed that if the executive headed by Mr Trimble collapsed, then so too would the whole Belfast Assembly.

This point may have been designed to cause anxiety to some Unionist members of the Assembly who appear to hope that they can bring down the Executive without doing away with the Assembly itself, which provides them with status and an attractive salary.

A further whiff of political menace came from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, who warned that the fall of the Executive would mean not just the return of direct rule from Westminster but also a greater role for Dublin.

Meanwhile, contacts between the Trimble camp and the anti-Good Friday Agreement elements in the party, which had been aimed at producing a compromise motion for tomorrow's meeting, were revealed to have come to nothing.

In literature distributed to the 800-plus party council members, Mr Trimble indicated that he was likely to attempt to close down some of the cross-border provisions of the Agreement unless there was more movement on decommissioning. He wrote: "We can add to the pressure on republicans, first by taking from them that part of the Assembly they most want - north-south relations. We may end in another suspension."

Mr Mandelson said that if the political structures collapsed, then direct rule "will involve not just the British Government, but the Irish government interfering more in the affairs of Northern Ireland. If that is what people want in the Ulster Unionist Party, then they know what course of action is open."

Mr Adams also warned: "If the Unionist council meets and places deadlines, and makes the process conditional upon the IRA doing certain things within a certain time-frame set by the council, then what they are doing is setting the self-destruct button for the process on red alert. It will not work that way."

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