The Ulster Declaration: All-party committee set up to calm fears

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT has acted to quell Ulster Unionist and Tory backbench unease about the Downing Street declaration by announcing the creation, early in the new year, of a select committee on Northern Ireland.

David Trimble, the official Ulster Unionist MP for Upper Bann, said: 'If they want us to give a favourable response to the declaration, they need to show they are taking our agenda seriously. This does that.' The committee will be dominated by about eight Tories, with two Labour MPs, one Social Democratic and Labour Party MP, one Democratic Unionist Party MP, and two official Ulster Unionists. James Kilfedder, an independent Unionist, is tipped as the chairman.

Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor, outraged former Cabinet colleagues by warning John Major at Prime Minister's Questions against undermining the Union with Northern Ireland, a challenge he angrily dismissed. Labour MPs also shouted: 'Disgraceful.'

Mr Lamont later told friends that he had given Mr Major a chance to reinforce his support for the Union. Cabinet ministers accused Mr Lamont of being bitter about his sacking. 'He may believe it, but he would never have said it when he was in the Cabinet. It was mischievous. It won't win him any friends,' one Cabinet minister said.

In a broadcast last night, John Smith, the Labour leader, urged the IRA to accept the declaration and end the violence. 'If peace is to come, all paramilitary organisations must lay down their arms,' he said.

Most mainstream Tory MPs continued to support the declaration, but there were signs of unease on the right. Andrew Hunter, chairman of the Tory backbench committee on Northern Ireland, who supports the declaration, saw Mr Major to reinforce concern about the Union. Tory MPs and Ulster Unionists are adamant that if the IRA rejects the peace overtures, the London and Dublin governments should introduce internment for republican and loyalist terrorists.

'The Government would have to respond by taking the toughest measures. The Government has gone the furthest distance imaginable to meet the demands of the nationalists. If they turned it down, they would be showing no interest in the democratic procedure, and the only thing then is for a form of repression,' Mr Trimble said.

Dublin sources have firmly rejected any prospect of internment south of the border, unless it was to round up the leaders of a break- away group after the IRA had ended the violence.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that British officials would talk to Sinn Fein before the IRA surrendered its weapons during the three- month 'decontamination' period opening the way to political talks. 'We shall be saying to them, 'come to exploratory discussions and high on the list of what will be relevant there is what are you going to do with your arms'?' Sir Patrick said on BBC radio.

Asked what would happen if a bomb went off during the three months, he said: 'That will count very heavily against their credibility, but it is very important not to be tied down here and now to precise circumstances when we do not know what they are going to be.'

His remarks triggered alarm among some Tory MPs. David Wilshire, Tory MP for Spelthorne, said: 'This means we have just given in to the terrorists.'