The Secret IRA Meetings: McNamara unites Tories: Labour spokesman accused of maladroit handling of political opportunity

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The Independent Online
LABOUR'S contribution to the debate on IRA contacts served only to strengthen the relationship between the Government and the Ulster Unionists, on whom John Major depends to bolster his slender Commons majority of 17, it was claimed yesterday.

Kevin McNamara, Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman, denied Labour was seeking party advantage. But his remarks, including a reference to the Government's 'recent mishandling of these matters', brought Tory protests and James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, said: 'If (Sinn Fein president Gerry) Adams feels he ought to have a spokesman in this House, he need look no further than you.' One member of the Government said afterwards: 'I think (Mr McNamara) has just shored up the Tory majority for the rest of this Parliament.' According to one Labour MP a few of them believe that Mr McNamara should have clearly condemned the Government or steered clear of criticism.

Mr McNamara said he hoped the 'mishandling' would not deter ministers 'from believing that risk-taking is essential if progress is to be achieved. But he also urged the Government to call on the Ulster Unionists to play their part in achieving peace. They had consistently refused to address two fundamental issues - the need for an 'institutionalised Irish dimension in the government of Northern Ireland' and for power-sharing.

If the Government intended to demonstrate its sincerity and if it was prepared to take risks for peace, 'then we expect to hear from the Government about the concrete proposals which will satisfy the aspirations, needs and interests of both communities,' he said.

A source close to John Smith, leader of the Labour Party, insisted that Mr McNamara's remarks had been cleared in advance and had no bearing on the deal reached long ago between Mr Major and the Ulster Unionists. 'Mr Molyneaux had decided he was not going to comment on what Sir Patrick Mayhew (the Attorney-General) had done at all. So he attacked the Labour Party.'

There were calls last month for Mr Smith to sack Mr McNamara after he defended Ireland's claims to the North just as Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister, hinted he might be ready to compromise to bring peace.

That followed a controversial suggestion that London and Dublin should share joint sovereignty over the province, which Mr Smith was forced to repudiate.

(Photograph omitted)

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