The Ulster Declaration: Reynolds and Major stand firm against 'clarification': Prime Ministers insist statement is non-negotiable as soldiers give view from the front line

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH and Irish governments yesterday rebuffed the efforts of Sinn Fein to obtain clarification of their joint peace declaration, each signalling that it was not open to renegotiation.

The rejoinders came from John Major, who yesterday paid a one-day visit to Belfast, and from the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds. In the meantime, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, called for answers to a list of questions about the declaration.

Speaking during his traditional pre-Christmas visit, in which he met a range of community leaders and security force personnel, Mr Major gave a trenchant response to the republican calls. He said: 'There is a gauntlet down on the table. It is marked peace. It is there for Sinn Fein to pick it up. The onus is on them. There is no need for fresh negotiation. There is no need for any indecisiveness. There is no further clarification needed - we are not being drawn into negotiations. I am not playing that game.'

Mr Major became the first prime minister in 20 years to venture into nationalist west Belfast when he visited a local enterprise centre in Andersonstown. Later he met political party leaders for private talks.

His attitude towards Sinn Fein was echoed by the Taoiseach, who said in Dublin: 'The joint declaration, I believe, provides from everyone's point of view a noble means of establishing the first step towards lasting peace with justice in Northern Ireland. It is a statement of principles, not a basis for negotiation. The next stage of negotiations can only come after peace has first been established.

'Just as the political problems can only be solved over time, so also the many detailed security questions that will arise in the aftermath of violence cannot be settled at this stage. They will require detailed consideration and discussion which can only take place once violence has ceased.'

Sinn Fein yesterday disclosed that it was setting up a commission to organise a process of 'nation-wide consultations' with as wide a range of opinion and individuals as possible before giving its definitive response to the declaration.

Gerry Adams yesterday outlined some of the areas on which Sinn Fein was demanding clarification. He said: 'In his Commons speech John Major asserted that the Downing Street declaration means no to the value of achieving a united Ireland, no to a united Ireland, no to Britain joining the persuaders, no to any timetable for a united Ireland, no to joint authority, no to any change in the Unionist veto, no to a Dublin say in the internal affairs of the North.

'Is this what both Prime Ministers have agreed? These are some of the issues which highlight the obvious need for clarification.'

Mr Major's visit brought renewed signs of divisions in the Unionist camp. He was welcomed to Belfast by the Lord Major, Reg Empey, and the south Belfast MP the Rev Martin Smyth, both members of the Ulster Unionist Party, but there was no support for him from the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party.

One DUP member barracked the Prime Minister, while DUP councillors verbally attacked UUP members after Mr Major had left Belfast city hall.

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