Dublin digs in against committee on Ulster: Fears that the Anglo-Irish Agreement could be undermined

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Indy Politics
IRISH government ministers are to maintain strong opposition to a Commons Select Committee on Northern Ireland, arguing that it is incompatible with the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

This is being backed by warnings that a deliberate undermining of the agreement could prompt Dublin to bring pressure to bear from allies in the US government and from EC partners over the way Northern Ireland is governed.

Sources in Dublin yesterday amplified earlier warnings by the Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, that Dublin has rights of consultation on the governing of Northern Ireland under the agreement.

Mr Reynolds has also argued that a select committee would conflict with the terms agreed between the two governments in March 1991, that underpin the now stalled talks on the future of Northern Ireland.

Publicly Mr Reynolds has accepted John Major's Commons statement that no deal has been struck with the Ulster Unionists. But the Irish government is aware that reliance on Unionist votes in the Commons could lead to concessions ranging from local government changes to weakening the role of the Anglo-Irish conference.

An Irish government source said a Commons select committee, which by definition excluded Dublin consultation, 'would be a strong signal of a change towards an integrationist policy. Direct rule has failed and we have no reason to believe it would be any more successful if it were imposed in a select committee.'

Dublin feels that such a course would in effect end the British government's role as a neutral broker in the all-party talks process.

Dublin's worst fear is that the wholesale granting of Unionist concessions, including demands for power in areas of local government controlled from Westminster, could push Northern Ireland backwards into the same problems of discrimination that precipitated the Troubles.

Dublin alarm has been fuelled by the remarks from the Ulster Unionist Party leader James Molyneaux about the understanding reached with Mr Major and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, including Mr Molyneaux's call for any hint of encouragement for Irish unity to be wiped from the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The Irish government is determined to drive home its objections to a select committee now to ensure the issue does not disappear off the agenda. There is no Anglo-Irish conference until September and no move on a select committee is expected before the Commons returns from its summer recess. 'Dublin has to be consulted on the running of the North - we cannot lightly give that up. That is the key point,' the source said.