The Ulster Declaration: Major confronts Unionist wrath: The House of Commons

JOHN MAJOR was confronted with the outright hostility of the Democratic Unionists when he explained the joint declaration in a statement to the Commons. Ian Paisley, the party leader, said that it was an 'act of treachery', while Peter Robinson twisted the knife with past words of the Prime Minister and asked if his stomach was 'no longer turning at the prospect of sitting down with the IRA'.

'What is it that loyal Ulster has done wrong to have this further betrayal visited upon them?' demanded Mr Robinson, MP for Belfast East, in an outburst that Mr Major said was 'intended to be wholly destructive'.

Mr Robinson said Ulster's 'unfettered right' to self-determination had been taken away and included with that of the island of Ireland. 'Why is it that prime ministers who most protest their unionism are always the ones who do the greatest harm to the union?'

Mr Paisley said he found it 'offensive' to be told that, in three months' time, if the IRA ceased violence, they would be invited as constitutional politicians to sit down.

The Prime Minister had not had his constituents murdered and butchered, Mr Paisley went on. 'Maybe he would like to sit down with the godfathers of the people who would do it.' The Ulster people looked on the declaration as 'a sell-out act of treachery'.

Angered, Mr Major replied: 'The purpose of this agreement and this document is to make sure that, 25 years from now, Mr Paisley's successor does not sit there saying that to the prime minister of the day.' He wished to take action to make sure there was no more bloodshed, 'no more coffins carried away . . .' because politicians did not have the courage to address the problems.

The reaction of the official Ulster Unionists was restrained and cautious. David Trimble, MP for Upper Bann, reminded Mr Major of the euphoria eight years ago when the House 'very foolishly' endorsed the Anglo-Irish agreement. 'We are suspending judgement today on this statement in the hope that it will lead to a way out of the cul-de-sac to which the people of Ulster have been condemned for the last eight years.'

James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionists, asked 'in a constructive fashion' for a halt to the 'drift' over the last 20 years from the affairs of Northern Ireland being an internal matter for the UK parliament. Mr Major said the declaration did not commit the Government to joining the ranks of the 'persuaders for a united Ireland', or establish any arrangements for joint authority.

'For as long as a majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain within the union, then they will have the total and complete support of the Government in doing so,' Mr Major said. He sidestepped calls from unionists and Tories that all weapons, ammunition and bomb-making materials should be surrendered, but ruled out any amnesty for terrorists.

John Hume, the SDLP leader, welcomed what he called 'one of the most comprehensive declarations made about British-Irish relations in the past 70 years'. He appealed to everyone who came to the table to do so armed only with the strength of their convictions, and not with any form of coercion.

'It is people that have rights, not territory. Humanity transcends nationality,' Mr Hume said. He hoped the declaration would be 'the first major step on a road that will remove forever the gun and the bomb from our small island . . .'

Mainland MPs welcomed the declaration. John Smith, the Labour leader, said there was now an opportunity for the permanent cessation of violence and involvement of Sinn Fein in constitutional dialogue, 'provided it is clear the path of violence has been abandoned'.

Alan Beith, for the Liberal Democrats, said the real question was for the terrorists. 'Why should anyone else die? Why should any more families be torn apart when it is possible to seek change, without obstacle, by a peaceful process?'

However, there was pressure from some Tories for a stronger commitment to the union. Paraphrasing the passage in the declaration that troubles the pro-unionists, Nicholas Budgen asked for confirmation that the Government 'still has a strategic or economic interest in Wolverhampton?'

Mr Major said that the Government was not going to impose its views on the majority in Northern Ireland, but that did not mean it was indifferent to their concerns. 'Our interest is benevolent, not selfish,' he told a similarly concerned Kate Hoey, the Ulster-born Labour MP for Vauxhall.

Tony Benn, Labour MP for Chesterfield, said the statement that Britain was no longer laying claim to an interest in the maintenance of the union was very important and ought to be emphasised in order to end the violence.

Mr Major recalled saying during the election that it would not be appropriate to hold Scotland within the UK if a majority of its people wanted independence. 'The same must apply to the people of Northern Ireland. That does not exclude the fact that I have my own personal views. It does illustrate the fact that, ultimately, it must be for the people themselves to determine.'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected