Major faces growing unrest over joint declaration

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JOHN MAJOR yesterday told MPs the Heathrow airport mortar attack would not be allowed to destroy the Downing Street peace initiative.

His message was reinforced by the Anglo-Irish conference in London between Dick Spring, the Irish foreign affairs minister, and Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The two governments united in condemning the attack on Heathrow airport and reiterated their determination to stand by the principles of the joint declaration which the two Prime Ministers signed in December at Downing Street.

But Mr Major faced growing Conservative backbench unrest about the failure to take more decisive action to counter the continued campaign of violence by the IRA and the failure of the two governments to make progress without the IRA-Sinn Fein acceptance of the declaration.

Henry Bellingham, a member of the Tory backbench Northern Ireland committee, said: 'IRA-Sinn Fein should now be treated with complete contempt. Unless they sign the declaration tomorrow, they should forfeit the opportunity to be part of it.'

Mr Major attempted to hold the line by explaining that the declaration was a set of principles, not an offer which could be accepted or rejected.

But Ulster Unionist MPs called for the Downing Street Declaration to be torn up in the wake of the Heathrow airport attack. Some Tories also regard the bombing as the last nail in the coffin for Mr Major's Irish peace initiative. 'It is another of Major's initiatives which have failed, but he can't find a way to drop it,' a senior ministerial source said.

Members of the Tory backbench Northern Ireland committee said they wanted a security crackdown in Northern Ireland, led by more security co-operation from the Dublin government to attack the IRA south of the border. Irish ministers insist they are giving full co-operation. But there is a growing acceptance that the peace initiative has failed, and that the three-strand talks are stalled at least until after the June European elections. James Molyneaux, the Ulster Unionist leader, said yesterday in the Irish Times that he was not bluffing over his threat to boycott the talks process, although he is still engaged in the bilateral talks with British ministers about devolving powers to Ulster.