Sovereignty plan sparks Ulster row: Mayhew rejects joint administration

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Indy Politics
BRITISH and Irish ministers were divided last night over the Home Secretary's use of exclusion powers against John Matthews for his alleged involvement in terrorism, and Irish proposals for joint administration of Ulster.

The issues provoked a row between Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, at a meeting of the intergovernmental conference in London.

Mr Spring later demanded a review of the Home Secretary's powers to exclude Mr Matthews from the mainland of Britain in spite of being cleared by a British court.

The talks ended more than an hour late, with the parties also split on the strategy for attempting to revive the inter-party talks in Ulster currently blocked by the Ulster Unionists. Sir Patrick flatly rejected a proposal raised by Mr Spring for breaking the deadlock in the autumn by holding talks between the two governments on a range of options, including joint administration of Ulster - a proposition described as a 'betrayal of the people of Ulster' by John Major when it emerged from a leaked Labour discussion document.

Sir Patrick later told a press conference that the proposal broke one of the 'cardinal principles' that the talks involving the Ulster Unionists would be 'subject of agreement across the community'. 'Frankly, I was surprised by the interview as reported in the Guardian because it seemed to go significantly beyond the position of the Irish Government hitherto . . .

'These talks are not going to end in joint administration,' Sir Patrick said. That view was reflected in the communique which said that both sides believed the objectives of the talks process were 'valid and achievable', and that they would make every effort to achieve them 'through direct discussions and negotiations between all the parties concerned'.

However, Mr Spring refused to withdraw the proposal. He insisted that it was one of a number of options which could be discussed. 'We should rule nothing in and rule nothing out.' Mr Spring said he was prepared to contemplate the failure of the talks, but Sir Patrick made it clear he believed that it was too soon to concede defeat.

It is unlikely that the rift will be allowed to do lasting damage to relations between the two governments. The meeting also expressed a joint commitment to tackling terrorism and outrage at the recent spate of town bombings in Northern Ireland. But signs of strain between the two sides were clearly showing, with the prospects for reviving the talks gloomier than ever.

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