Comment: A bold policy for Northern Ireland

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The Independent Online
Labour governments have always supported the concept of a united Ireland. This was a legacy of the conviction that Ulster Unionism was a modified form of imperialism, and a reflection of the strength of the Catholic vote in Lancashire and Glasgow. Clement Attlee's post-war administration transformed the Free State into the Republic of Ireland, and, after that ,there were voices like Hugh Delargy, a former Bevanite, to remind Harold Wilson, another Bevanite, of his obligation towards the eventual removal of British troops and the goal of a united Ireland. Then Mr Wilson learnt about the strength of feeling among Ulster's Protestant workers during their strike in 1974 and, without officially changing Labour's policy, he turned his back on Ireland

In Armagh on Friday, Tony Blair brutally severed the policy of New Labour from the inherited commitments of Old Labour: "My agenda is not a united Ireland," he declared. He was right to do so, because the desire for peace in Ulster overwhelms aspirations for unity. But before peace comes, the British government will need to talk to all the parties, including Sinn Fein. By recognising this, and by offering to revive contacts through officials, Mr Blair and his Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, may have found a way of impressing their priorities on Sinn Fein - starting with "a quality ceasefire" (Mowlam's phrase) - without offending Unionists. New Labour will find the peace process as awkward and frustrating as other British governments have done, but at least it will not allow ancient attitudes to be a further hindrance to it. That's good news.