McNamara rebukes Major and Blair

 

MR KEVIN McNamara MP has launched a scathing attack on Mr John Major's conduct of the peace process and on Mr Tony Blair's uncritical support for him.

And Mr McNamara said the British government was in error in assuming that the IRA "was always going to be more flexible, reasonable and accommodating than the Ulster Unionist Party ... the party of `no surrender'."

Labour's former Northern Ireland spokesman said "direct responsibility" for the collapse of the ceasefire rested with the IRA. But, in a speech to Oxford University Labour Club yesterday, he declared: "It is my considered judgment that John Major's successive errors of judgment explain, although they do not excuse, the scenes of devastation in London."

In his most explicit rebuke to date to his party leader, Mr Blair, he explained: "My judgment is not adversarial in the worst manner of Westminster politics. It could not be, for one simple reason. Each of Mr Major's errors of judgment has been uncritically supported by Mr Blair."

Mr McNamara said the British government's initial interpretation of the Downing Street Declaration and the dispute over the "permanence" of the ceasefire had "impaired the possibility that rapid momentum on negotiations might have acted to build confidence about his intentions within the Northern nationalist community."

Mr Major, he alleged, equivocated on necessary reforms in policing, emergency legislation and all public policy matters which might have confirmed a willing to deliver "parity of esteem" between the two national traditions.

But worse, he said, Mr Major had imposed decommissioning of arms as a precondition for talks: "Why? Presumably - and here I cam giving Mr Major the benefit of the doubt - because he wished to calm unionist fears about a possible sell out."

Mr McNamara went on: "If so, tit was an error of judgment. The error was to assume that the IRA Army Council was always going to be more flexible, reasonable and accommodating than the Ulster Unionist Party. The error assumed that the IRA was willing to engage in symbolic surrender, unlike the party of `No Surrender'."

Challenging the government's "unrealistic thinking", Mr McNamara said the IRA had not been defeated, but its willingness to negotiate indicated "that it believed it could not win its aims through war".

For that reason, he went on, "a second's inspection must have made it plain that the IRA could not expect Sinn Fein to win the IRA's war objectives at the negotiating table".

In other words, "both the IRA and Sinn Fein were ready to settle for less than their historic demands. To repeat the ceasefire indicated the willingness of the republican movement to achieve a political settlement, short of its historic objectives."

Mr McNamara told his audience Mr Major "did not accept" the Mitchell report but instead "moved the goal posts" with his proposal for elections as an alternative to decommissioning.

He continued: "He hadn't made clear, elections to what, or what for. He hadn't listened to those who advised him that Northern nationalists, especially republicans, look upon the prospective restoration of a unionist dominated assembly, based on majoritarian principles, as a return to their worst nightmare."

In another swipe at Mr Blair, Mr McNamara said: "Later on he [Mr Major] told us he had been misunderstood. He was, and by then it was too late. Mr Blair was also presumably misunderstood - assuming that he understood what Mr Major thought he was doing."

The election proposal, he said, represented "Mr Major's last and worst error of judgment." Accusing Mr Blair of compounding Mr Major's errors of judgment with one of his own, Mr McNamara said: "By reassuring Ulster Unionists, Mr Blair has made them less fearful of a Labour government, but at the price of making them less willing to negotiate under a Conservative government.

Urging a return to the Mitchell recommendations, Mr McNamara said: "At present we have the absurdity that the government, and my party, are insisting that Sinn Fein sign up to the six democratic principles in Mitchell, even though the government and my party have not endorsed Mitchell's report in its entirety."

Urging both governments and all parties to accept Mitchell in its entirety, Mr McNamara said this would enable "Sinn Fein and Irish America to deliver a restoration of the IRA ceasefire".