Mayhew rejects renewed calls for internment: Imprisonment without trial would be 'a public relations disaster' in fight against terrorists

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The Independent Online
INTERNMENT for the 'Godfathers' of terrorism has been ruled out for the foreseeable future by Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who yesterday set out his plans for a cross-party political settlement.

In spite of the renewed calls for internment in the wake of the Warrington IRA bombing, he told Cabinet colleagues that imprisonment without trial would be a public relations disaster for Britain in the fight against terrorism. He is keeping open the option of internment, but said it would only be practical if supported by the Irish government.

Sir Patrick has told colleagues internment would not stop a new generation of terrorists replacing those imprisoned; it would leave unanswered the problem of dealing with terrorists when released.

He is planning to visit Washington in 10 days in an attempt to sway American opinion against the IRA. He will also urge administration officials not to go ahead with President Bill Clinton's election promise to give a US entry visa to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader.

But the Secretary of State raised the prospects for a political settlement yesterday by setting out for the first time in years the British government's preferred options for power sharing in Ulster, in which Sinn Fein could win seats.

He also put on the table the possibility of a united Ireland. While reaffirming there would be no change without the consent of the majority, he said: 'There is no prospect of an agreement precluding a politically united Ireland if, at some future date, the public's view should change.'

He is hoping the local elections on 6 May will clear the way for political talks to be revived which could lead to power-sharing. A meeting of Irish and British ministers will signal a gap in further meetings of the Anglo-Irish conference to enable the cross-party talks to begin again.

Sir Patrick proposes: a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland; a Commons select committee for Northern Ireland; cross-border co-operation in all-Ireland services such as tourism, health promotion, energy use and transport; and a new Anglo-Irish agreement.

The proposals met with opposition from the Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, who said they constituted 'a framework for the betrayal' of the province.

Sir Patrick had shown his true colours in saying accommodation had to be at the expense of Unionists and in favour of nationalists and the Dublin government, he added.

However, James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, said he was encouraged by the speech. It was well-balanced and the tone showed realism and could pave the way for dialogue rather than 'high-wire circus acts'. The Alliance Party leader Dr John Alderdice said the proposals displayed a sense of realism.

An agreed outcome would not include local powers by simple majority rule, Sir Patrick said. 'I believe that the outcome of the negotiations would involve a political accommodation within Northern Ireland which returned to locally elected politicians wide powers and responsibilities, for which they would be accountable to the electorate.'

Better government might improve support for the police, security forces and the administration of justice, he said. 'An outcome on these lines would involve a substantial transfer of power to institutions within Northern Ireland and a framework for mutually beneficial co-operation between the two parts of Ireland.

'The Westminster government would retain some significant powers and, as the sovereign power for Northern Ireland, would have ultimate responsibility for its government, peace and prosperity.'

Gerry Adams, though, said the speech looked like a holding statement which attempted to 'wink and nod' to all political opinions at one time. He said Westminster needed to adopt a policy which would lead to a united Ireland in the shortest practical time.