Mayhew softens line on clarifying peace declaration

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FRESH hopes of peace in Northern Ireland were raised last night when a more conciliatory approach to Sinn Fein's demands for clarification of the Downing Street declaration was signalled by Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

In a move to encourage a breakthrough in the impasse over the declaration, Sir Patrick came close to answering the Sinn Fein demands for clarification, and for the British Government to act as 'persuaders'.

Albert Reynold, the Irish Prime Minister, also provided his most detailed explanation so far of the declaration in a speech last night, in a twin effort to end the deadlock in the Republic. In a seven-point assessment of the joint declaration, he said that self-determination could result in an agreed Ireland, whatever form it might take.

Kevin McNamara, the Labour spokesman on Northern Ireland, on Channel 4 said: 'I don't think now, coupling this with what Mr Reynolds said, anybody has got any real reason for justifying the maintenance of the violence . . . because all their objections have been met.'

At a lecture in London, Sir Patrick, while not dropping the demand that Sinn Fein should renounce violence before entering the talks process, said: 'We will do everything in our power to encourage, facilitate and enable that to be achieved, through dialogue and co-operation based on full respect for the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland. Agreement between the people living in the island of Ireland, north and south, is the key. No outcome is ruled out.

'We accept a binding obligation to introduce the necessary legislation to give effect to any measure of agreement on future relationships in Ireland, but equally the outcome cannot be predetermined.'

Sir Patrick earlier told MPs that the Government would not clarify the declaration, because that would inevitably lead to negotiation with the terrorists. Last night, he said if the IRA ended the violence, the exploratory talks with Sinn Fein promised with the declaration could take place.

But Sir Patrick coupled the 'carrot' of clarification with a stick, that the inter-party talks process would be accelerated without Sinn Fein, and proposals would be put to the parties soon.

Mr Reynolds said the present situation cried out for responsible leadership and for a recognition of political realities and opportunities and the inherent dynamic of peace. He said: 'The time is approaching when the people of Ireland will demand clarification on whether all paramilitary and associated political associations have the sincere commitment to creating peace on this island that they profess.'