Leaders 'not deflected by Heathrow attacks'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT secured continued backing for the Northern Ireland peace process from Labour yesterday, after John Major and Albert Reynolds, the Taoiseach, insisted the Heathrow attacks had failed to dislodge the Downing Street Declaration.

After speaking on the telephone, the two leaders issued a joint statement saying: 'We shall maintain the course we set in the joint declaration because it is the right course. There is nothing the men of violence can do to deflect us from it.' They also vowed that both British and Irish police, and security forces, would 'continue their intensive efforts to deal with terrorism, efforts which have delivered notable successes in both jurisdictions'.

Heathrow airport security and the absence of a ministerial statement to the Commons in the wake of the second mortar attack was a different matter for the Government, however, causing strong reactions from some MPs, and from David Mellor, the former Home Office minister. Labour claimed the Government had focused on deregulation, instead of treating airport security as a priority.

There were renewed murmurings that, so far, the declaration had only resulted in a response of violence, but the prevailing mood among backbench Tory MPs was that the Government should denounce the latest outrages in the strongest possible terms.

Echoing the atmosphere in Dublin, Kevin McNamara, Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman, said that despite pessimism following the events at Heathrow, Labour remained fully committed to the Downing Street Declaration, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the three-strand talks as the only way to bring peace with justice to Ireland. 'We should not be diverted, either by the bombing of the IRA or by the Unionist parties walking out of the talks,' he said. 'What must not be allowed to happen is for a wedge to be driven between the two governments.'

Earlier, Downing Street reaffirmed that Sinn Fein could still enter talks about talks, if a renunciation of violence was followed by a three-month ceasefire.

Launching the Liberal Democrats' spring conference in Cardiff, Paddy Ashdown, the party leader, said it must now be accepted 'with sadness' that the attacks were the definitive response from the IRA to the declaration. 'It was a courageous move from the Prime Minister, but he gravely misjudged the need to maintain momentum . . . As a result he left a vacuum which was filled by the IRA,' he said.

Another warning of a post-declaration policy void came from Peter Temple-Morris, Tory MP for Leomister and joint chairman of the all-party Anglo-Irish Parliamentary Group. He said: 'The absence of knowledge about where we're going afterwards is why everyone, IRA right through to the Unionists, are bidding for post- declaration positions.'

That appears a minority view among Tory backbenchers, however. James Cran, MP for Beverley and vice-chairman of the Tory backbench Northern Ireland committee, said the mortar attacks showed that Sinn Fein and the IRA still wanted to negotiate in public over the veto of the majority in Northern Ireland.

'The responsibility of the Government now is to send back a very clear unequivocal message to Messrs McGuinness and Adams that the British government is unprepared to negotiate in this way.'

There should be no timetable or deadline, Mr Cran said. If the proposals 'died on the vine', the Government would then have to ensure no policy vacuum occurred, and 'massage the legitimate parties in Northern Ireland'.