Mowlam climbs down over Maginnis apology


Dr Mo Mowlam and Mr Ken Maginnis called a halt to their increasingly acrimonious and damaging war of words yesterday after an abrupt and unexpected climbdown by the Northern Secretary.

Just hours after yesterday's disclosure in The Irish Times, Dr Mowlam withdrew her demand for an apology from Mr Maginnis for a "vicious and unwarranted attack" during a Stormont talks session last Wednesday, in the course of which the Ulster Unionist Party's security spokesman called her "a damned liar".

And Dr Mowlam agreed to write to the UUP leader, Mr David Trimble, telling him that her letter of February 4th, in which she said she would not "do business" with Mr Maginnis in the talks process in the absence of an apology, was "no longer relevant".

The move came after a lunchtime encounter in a House of Commons canteen during which, according to Mr Maginnis's account, Dr Mowlam "indicated that she wished to bring our differences to an end". In his statement after the meeting Mr Maginnis said: "I have agreed that this would be acceptable to me, on the clear understanding that matters between us, and between the Northern Ireland Office and the Ulster Unionist Party, need to be totally open and frank."

Mr Maginnis added that Dr Mowlam had agreed, at his request, to write to Mr Trimble "to inform him that her letter of 4th February is no longer relevant".

Dr Mowlam was saying nothing last night about the episode. But while she had hoped Mr Maginnis would "do the decent thing", she and her advisers had clearly reflected on the need to prevent a further escalation of the dispute as they prepare to take the talks process to Dublin next week.

A source close to Dr Mowlam earlier had said the talks process was "bigger" than any personal dispute, and that she was determined nothing should jeopardise the progress being made.

There was also doubt in political circles as to how she might make good her threat, and uneasiness about the contrast between her apparent readiness to "boycott" Mr Maginnis and her eagerness to review the question of the Ulster Democratic Party's eligibility to resume participation in the process.

Mr Trimble said Dr Mowlam had been foolish to send her letter in the first place. Arriving at Castle Buildings yesterday, he said: "We are not going to have a talks process involving a range of parties talking on matters which do give rise to strong feelings without there being an occasional harsh word spoken, and there have been a number spoken."