The Ulster Peace Process: Difficult issue of arms 'cannot be ducked': Colin Brown looks at the details of John Major's speech in Belfast yesterday

Click to follow
The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR yesterday raised the prospect of talks with Sinn Fein by the end of the year in an historic speech in Belfast. He announced a package of measures for lasting peace in the Province, but warned the issue of disarming the IRA could not be ducked.

Calling for 'Herculean efforts' for peace, the Prime Minister's key announcement to the Institute of Directors in Ulster was acceptance that the IRA ceasefire had met the conditions in the Downing Street Declaration. He spelt out a package of proposals that Downing Street sources emphasised was a 'a big push forward' for the peace process.

Ceasefire: 'I am now prepared to make a working assumption that the ceasefire is intended to be permanent . . .

Exploratory talks with Sinn Fein: 'If the IRA continues to show that it has ended its terrorism, then we shall be ready to convene exploratory talks before this year is out. This preliminary dialogue between . . . the Government and Sinn Fein will be crucial. It will explore how Sinn Fein can make a transition to normal political life; how it would be able to play the same part as the existing constitutional parties; how it could enter the political talks process.'

Weapons and explosives: 'We shall discuss the practical consequences of ending violence, most obviously how illegal weapons and explosives are going to be removed from life in Northern Ireland. Peace cannot be assured finally until the paramilitaries on both sides hand in their weapons. This is a difficult issue, but it cannot be ducked.'

Contact with Loyalist paramilitaries: The Government to enter contact 'at the appropriate time', once they had sufficiently demonstrated a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods.

Border crossings: 'All roads to be reopened.'

Exclusion orders: 'Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are free to travel anywhere within the UK, provided they remain committed to the democratic process.'

Security forces: 'Troop levels will continue to be reviewed in relation to the threat.' But he added: 'It is our firm objective to return to exclusively civilian policing.'

Law enforcement: 'No groups will be allowed to take the law into their own hands. All sections of the community must have confidence in the police.'

Investment: 'A major conference in Belfast in December involving investors from Britain, Europe, America and the Far East.'

European Union initiative: 'A substantial package of new measures and new money.'

The British and Irish joint framework: On the document which will form the basis of a settlement in Northern Ireland, Mr Major said: 'I am determined the people of Northern Ireland will have the chance to give their views.'

The restoration of local accountability: 'We shall include proposals for an assembly . . . Neither a purely internal solution nor a return to domination of one side by the other would achieve this. Local democracy requires support across the community.'

Mr Major called on the people of Ulster to join a peace crusade to turn the ceasefires by the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries into a permanent end to violence in Northern Ireland. The price of breaking the peace should be so high that there would be no support for anyone who contemplated using violence again.

'Let me speak directly to each and every person in Northern Ireland. If you want peace, say so now. Loudly. Don't sit back. Join the crusade for the future . . . You have not had this chance in years and you cannot afford to miss it. Let your voices be heard. Ultimately you, and you alone, can ensure that Northern Ireland never goes backwards. And the benefits will be yours,' Mr Major said.

Assuring Ulster Unionists that there had been no 'secret deals', Mr Major repeated the promise made in Belfast in September that there would be a referendum to seek the consent of the people of Northern Ireland on the outcome of the cross- party constitutional talks.

The joint framework document, to be discussed with Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister, at a summit at Chequers on Monday, would not be a blueprint and it would be published.

The need to rebuild the Northern Ireland economy was underlined. For every million pounds of investment the Province had attracted, there should have been many more millions of pounds. 'We cannot make up 25 lost years overnight. We shall have to make Herculean efforts. That is the purpose of the initiatives I have announced.'