Mandelson in bid to seal new deal with Unionists

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The Independent Online

The Government continued to coax David Trimble's Ulster Unionist party into accepting the latest IRA arms proposals yesterday, to pave the way for the restoration of devolved government by Monday.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, made a series of moves designed to persuade the party's volatile 860-member ruling council to go for the deal. This led Seamus Mallon, of the SDLP, to criticise what he called "government by concession".

Although the overall Unionist mood is unclear, the Government hopes the council will approve the deal on Saturday. If it does, the intention is to form a new government on Monday.

Concessions have been offered over the Police Bill, published yesterday. This proposes to leave the final say on the name of the reformed force with Mr Mandelson. Further moves have been made on the question of the flying of the Union flag on public buildings and other matters, with Mr Mandelson writing a long and detailed letter to Mr Trimble.

Unionist assembly members who yesterday met to discuss the letter said they were impressed. Spokesman Danny Kennedy said: "There is a general feeling that the letter doesn't go far enough in what it indicates. In terms of the name of the RUC, and particularly with the flying of the Union flag, in this part of the United Kingdom many of us are at the end of our tether with parties like the SDLP and Sinn Fein, who are supposedly pro-agreement parties and have signed themselves up to acceptance of Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom."

Mr Mallon, calling on London and Dublin to end a "drip-feed" of concessions to Unionists, declared: "For two years we had a problem. The problem was decommissioning. One half hour after the decommissioning issue was effectively resolved, then we had more issues on the table. That is not the way to do political business."

Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, said: "I remember countless occasions over the course of the last few years where Gerry Adams and myself stood here and told the media the difficulty in this process wasn't about decommissioning, that it was basically because there were some leaders of political unionism who were opposed to the Good Friday Agreement lock, stock and barrel."