Letter: Round and round the round table

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The Independent Online
Sir: Without John Hume's courage and persistence, there would have been no ceasefire in Northern Ireland, so we all owe him a great deal. But he is wrong to insist on yet another roundtable between the parties ("It's good to talk, Mr Major", 15 November).

Once he brought Sinn Fein into the process, he created conditions which made an Irish settlement only possible by bilateral negotiations between the two sovereign governments.

It is not just that the Unionists will not sit down with - as they see it - a gun pointed at their heads, but that even if they accepted John Hume's arguments, they would have to make the settlement stick with all those Unionists who argued, when it came to a referendum, that a treaty agreed under threat of force was not binding.

By agreeing that the next step is yet another round table, the British Government is now predictably boxed in by the incompatible preconditions laid down by Sinn Fein and the Unionists.

And for what? The last round table was a disaster and there is no reason to suppose that a new one would be any better.

The two governments have already achieved an agreed position. They each need to negotiate bilaterally with the parties who look to them and then with each other; and IRA arms and British troops can now be part of that negotiation.

At some point they must persuade the parties who look to them that they have got the best deal they can.

Then, and only then, should they bring them round a table, pen in hand, to sign the settlement.

Yours faithfully,

Fred Catherwood

Cambridge

15 November

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