Mowlam welcomes UK-Irish Council


The British-Irish Council which will be established "soon" will have a beneficial effect on relationships within the United Kingdom and with the Irish Republic, the Northern Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, has said.

Dr Mowlam said she looked forward to the first meeting of the council taking place shortly. No date has been set but Dr Mowlam said it would happen "soon".

She admitted, however, that the deadlock over decommissioning would present obstacles in the period ahead. The best way forward was through dialogue and negotiation, she added.

It had been hoped the British-Irish Council would be up and running to coincide with the planned creation of the North-South Council at the end of this month. While the difficulties over decommissioning and the formation of an executive may put back that date, the Northern Secretary wants all the new institutions speedily established. "Like all parts of the Belfast Agreement it (the British-Irish Council) has to move forward together in parallel and it will be formally established at the same time as the other institutions under the agreement," she told an invited audience in Stranraer, Scotland.

Mr John Taylor, the Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader, repeated last night that his party would not agree to the formation of an executive until decommissioning began.

"This should not delay the beginning of the North-South Council by October 31st unless others wish to use the formation of an executive as a precondition to implementing the North-South Council," he said at a meeting in Moygashel, Co Tyrone.

Mr Taylor said he had heard that Sinn Fein members had been talking privately to "soft" Protestants, including clergy, "in the hope that they would compromise the terms of the Belfast Agreement". Such people did not speak for his party which would continue to demand some prior paramilitary disarmament, he said. Mr Taylor said it was a "nonsense" for Sinn Fein to try to link the holding of licensed firearms to illegal arms. Sinn Fein has complained that most of the North's 139,000 legal guns are in unionist hands, and that they pose a threat to nationalists.

Mr Sammy Wilson, a DUP Assembly member, said the RUC was already reviewing who should be allowed personal protection weapons. "Make no mistake about it, the hundreds of personal protection weapons being withdrawn are yet another one-sided concession in this process to the IRA." Meanwhile, following continuing publicly-expressed tensions between pro- and anti-agreement factions within the Ulster Unionist Party, the party's MEP, Mr Jim Nicholson, has called for an end to the "slanging match".

"It resolves nothing and merely contributes to further dissension. The UUP must be big enough to allow debate from different points of view within the party but any exchange should take place within the party structure," he said.