Conflict ahead over Ulster committee

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A COMMONS row is set to break out next week over the Government's decision, confirmed yesterday, to set up a Select Committee on Northern Ireland.

The move is supported by the Ulster Unionists, whose leader James Molyneaux has declared that the Downing Street Declaration has reached stalemate and that he would not engage in multi- party talks involving Dublin. For Mr Molyneaux, the committee will act as a powerful symbol of Northern Ireland's links with the Government.

Labour and the nationalist SDLP are strongly opposed. The committee would bring Northern Ireland on to a more equal footing with Scotland and Wales, which already have committees monitoring their affairs, but critics see it as playing to the Unionist agenda.

Seamus Mallon, SDLP MP for Newry and Armagh, protested that the committee was being imposed against the wishes of a substantial number of MPs, adding: 'The proposed membership is unfair to one section of us represented in this House.'

Tony Newton, Leader of the House, who announced motions on the committee to be debated next Wednesday, replied that membership was a matter for the Commons committee of selection.

The new committee is likely to contain 13 members - with five or six Tories and Sir James Kilfedder, the Popular Unionist Party leader who normally supports the Government, three or four Ulster Unionists, one SDLP member and two Labour.