Loyalist party leader predicts collapse of peace process imminent


THE Progressive Unionist Party spokesman, Mr David Ervine, last night warned that the Northern Ireland peace process would collapse within the next Week or fortnight. He said that the collapse would come on the issue of decommissioning, leaving a vacuum that "will undoubtedly be filled with violence from both sides."

Mr Ervine who was speaking a fringe meeting during the British Labour Party conference at Blackpool, also warned that the violence could be "much, much worse than it was in the past."

He said that the collapse would mean tragedy for some but added that he did not believe it would be a long run war.

"I believe that there are many on both sides who believe that is not the way forward."

Mr Ervine told his audience that sufficient consensus was required but he feared that Mr John Hume and Mr David Trimble were unable to provide that consensus.

The PUP spokesman urged his audience not to lose all hope because ground had been broken by the ceasefires and by the peace process.

Meanwhile, UDA and UFF prisoners in the Maze prison yesterday issued a statement explaining their reasons for announcing their withdrawal of support for the peace process.

The prisoners accused "so called mainstream unionist leaders" of failing to reach out "to our own political party, the UDP, who have tried in vain to reach and accommodate all those involved in the peace process".

The statement said the prisoners perceived "the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein/IRA republican movement, in that they preach to the world about peace whilst they practise war".

It continued: "Daily we have had to witness examples of erosion of our political and cultural identity from a united pan nationalist front (Sinn Fein, SDLP and the Irish Government) with their attitudes towards the banning of Orange Order parades and the boycotting of Protestant businesses.

"We are dismayed and angry at the refusal of the British government to recognise and take into account our efforts in calling and maintaining the loyalist ceasefire, especially since the resumption of republican violence in February 1996, with their attacks in London, Germany, Manchester, Enniskillen and, lately, Belfast city centre.

"Let us state that in October, 1994, we entered into our ceasefire from a position of considerable strength and discipline. Inside the prison, our attitude towards peaceful and political means was genuine in a search for a lasting peace."

The prisoners pledged their full support to the UDA/UFF leadership and to their political representatives in the UDP.

Efforts are continuing to try to allay the growing discontent of loyalist prisoners with the peace process. The Presbyterian minister who helped broker the loyalist ceasefire, the Rev Roy Magee, had talks with UDP representatives at Stormont, and loyalist sources are predicting an early meeting of the Combined Loyalist Military Command to discuss developments.

Meanwhile, the inter party talks continued in a low key at Castle Buildings, Stormont. After two short plenary sessions and a series of bilateral meetings, the talks adjourned until next week with no resolution of the dispute over the priority to be given on the agenda to the issue of decommissioning.

The deputy leader of the UUP, Mr John Taylor, in a statement urged the Northern Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, to "rethink his proposals and priorities" in relation to decommissioning.

However, Sinn Fein could not enter into the three stranded mode until there was "some mutual decommissioning" by loyalist and republican paramilitaries, he added.