Mandelson urges Unionists to back peace deal as 'dream' draws closer

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The Independent Online

Peter Mandelson made a fresh plea to Ulster Unionists to back the emerging deal on the peace process yesterday, stressing the "dream of ending the direct rule of Ulster" could become a reality by next week.

Peter Mandelson made a fresh plea to Ulster Unionists to back the emerging deal on the peace process yesterday, stressing the "dream of ending the direct rule of Ulster" could become a reality by next week.

Ahead of this weekend's crucial meeting of the party's ruling council, the Northern Ireland Secretary during question time spelled out the gains made out of the negotiations.

"What Unionists can point to as their achievement is the return of self-government, repeal of the South's territorial claim, ending of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, republican acceptance that decommissioning is essential, and a start of discussions as to how and when that decommissioning can take place."

His remarks came as the Ulster Freedom Fighters loyalist paramilitary organisation announced it would delay appointing a representative to discuss decommissioning with General John de Chastelain.

But Mr Mandelson made clear that he would not allow the peace process to be derailed, adding: "We are not going to allow any threats coming from any quarter to drive out the very real prospect of success that now exists before us. We have the prospect that for the first time in a quarter of a century Northern Ireland will see its representatives, its politicians, running its local affairs. Nothing should be done by anyone in any quarter to impede that happening."

But Mr Mandelson came under pressure from Democratic Unionists to suspend consideration of the Patten Commission into RUC reform and the early release of prisoners if "the Sinn Fein-IRA organisation" failed to deliver arms decommissioning.

Peter Robinson, the party's deputy leader said there was "a distinct difference between something being a priority and something being the main priority".

Replying, the Northern Ireland Secretary stressed that "any failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement would force the Irish and British governments to step in and assume their responsibilities, including through appropriate suspension arrangements for all institutions set up under the Agreement.

"The default mechanism could not be clearer."

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