Ulster troops wind-down in prospect

TROOPS could be taken off the streets of Belfast as a response by the Government to ceasefires by the IRA and loyalist paramilitary groups, Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, told MPs last night.

Mr Rifkind emphasised the need for caution, but gave a strong hint that steps to make military patrols look less aggressive, including replacing helmets with regimental head-dress, would be followed by a lowering of troop presence on the streets. 'Our aim is to remove soldiers from the streets of Northern Ireland, but when it is safe to do so, and not a moment sooner,' Mr Rifkind said. It will not mean a reduction in the number of troops in Northern Ireland but it could go some way to meeting the demands of Sinn Fein for the demilitarisation of the province in return for the IRA ceasefire.

Downing Street confirmed that controversial parts of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, including exclusion orders, introduced in the wake of the Birmingham pub bombings, could be repealed early next year after the Act's annual review.

Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, yesterday proposed ending Irish emergency anti-terrorist powers, putting pressure on the British government to match his response. He will argue at a meeting of the Irish cabinet today for the dropping of the powers, first adopted in 1939 and updated in 1976, if peace in Northern Ireland is deemed secure.

But his proposals were challenged as 'premature' by Des O'Malley, a former justice minister, who used the powers to set up the non-jury, anti-terrorist Special Criminal Court in 1972.

Mr O'Malley said it was far from certain that the risk of intimidation of juries and the threat of gang warfare had disappeared. 'It (the Special Criminal Court) was brought in because juries were interfered with and intimidated and I don't see any reason that the same thing wouldn't happen today.'

Meanwhile, the Cabinet's Northern Ireland committee is expected to take the first step towards bringing Sinn Fein into the talks process on Thursday by taking 'the working assumption' that the ceasefire is permanent.

Ministers are preparing to lift the exclusion order on Gerry Adams banning the Sinn Fein president from the mainland, but that may be delayed as a 'carrot' to offer Sinn Fein when they enter the talks with government officials. The Prime Minister has defended his cautious response to the ceasefires, but the Government is keen to avoid the criticism that it is dragging its heels.

However, difficulties ahead were underlined by Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, who attacked James Molyneaux, the Ulster Unionist leader, for 'crawling to Dublin' shortly before Mr Molyneaux met Mr Major.

Mr Paisley's attack was provoked by Mr Molyneaux's readiness to accept Sinn Fein into talks at official level before Christmas as a result of the ceasefire. Mr Paisley also attacked the 'counterfeit peace process' and denounced Mr Major as 'untrustworthy'. The Prime Minister met Mr Molyneaux last night at Downing Street to discuss the Government's next steps towards bringing Sinn Fein and loyalist groups into the talks process.

The publication of the framework document by the Dublin and London governments at the end of the month is likely to inject some realism into the hopes for lasting peace. It will be a broad package, including cross-border bodies, an elected power-sharing assembly for Ulster, and constitutional changes in Ireland and Britain over the future of the province.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - South East & East Anglia

£60500 - £65500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Technician

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want the opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Worker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Workers needed in the Hastin...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Worker - Car / Bike / Moped Drivers

£7 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: NEW branch opening soon in Worthing fol...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent