Major announces jobs programme for Ulster set over four linyes

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The Independent Online
John Major yesterday announced a new programme to tackle long-term unemployment as part of efforts to rebuild the Northern Ireland economy in the wake of the IRA and loyalist ceasefires.

He was speaking on the second day of the investment conference which brought potential investors and journalists to Belfast from Europe, America and the Far East. Judgments on the success or failure of the conference will not be possible for many months,since the two-day event was intended largely to plant the idea that a violence-free Northern Ireland offers much to possible investors.

A larger and potentially more important trade and investment conference is being planned by the Clinton administration to take place in Philadelphia in April. Yesterday Ron Brown, US Commerce Secretary, said he would present that conference with a plan for speeding up growth in the Northern Ireland economy.

Mr Major commended the quality of the local workforce, its low rate of labour disputes and the incentive packages available. He also announced five examples of new investment decisions by existing companies, one creating 100 jobs at a new business park in west Belfast. He announced a pilot scheme aimed at offering the long-term unemployed work for up to three years. It will have 1,000 places for those who have been out of work for more than a year.

Six Sinn Fein councillors who had been invited to part of the conference lobbied those attending it, but then withdrew in protest against what they characterised as discrimination against their party. Mr Major described this as an unwise stunt and said they had "shot themselves in the foot". Speaking in a BBC interview, he said there was now the best chance in a quarter of a century of making the peace permanent. If there was peace, people would invest, he said, and investment would improve prosperity and increase the opportunity for peace.

Government officials are today due to meet former loyalist paramilitaries at Stormont in Belfast today for the first in a series of contacts. Last week officials met Sinn Fein representatives for similar talks. Mr Major indicated that this talks process was not expected to produce early results. He said: "In due course, when Mr Adams and his party have gone through the exploratory talks, when they have given up any sort of violence, when it's perfectly clear that they've been prepared to hand in their weapons and we've got through the talks about talks, then like any other party they will be open to join the political talks. That is the route map ahead. That can't be short-circuited."

He added that IRA weapons would have to be handed in, or alternatively decommissioned in a way which could be verified.