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Monday, April 20, 1998 Published at 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK

Everyone can be a winner - Mowlam
image: [ Mo Mowlam urges support for a
Mo Mowlam urges support for a "unique" deal for Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam has told MPs all sides can profit from the Northern Ireland political settlement agreed on Good Friday.

"This is a situation in which, though compromises have been made, everyone can be a winner," she told the House of Commons.

"The agreement reached on Good Friday could be a significant turning point in the history of Northern Ireland."

In a bid to reassure unionists, the Secretary of State stressed that prisoners associated with groups who failed to maintain "a complete and unequivocal ceasefire" would not qualify for release under the procedures set out in the deal.

She also said any prisoners who reoffended after being released would be returned to jail and anyone convicted of offences committed after April 10 this year would be excluded from the terms of the deal.

The agreement was backed by the Ulster Unionist Party by a majority vote of delegates at a meeting at the weekend. It also has the support of Sinn Fein leaders.

But it needs to be ratified by the people in referenda in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on May 22.

Ms Mowlam, who was cheered by MPs returning after the Easter break, added: "Everyone's political and cultural identity is respected and protected by this deal."

But she warned: "Let's have no illusions. It will take a long time to repair the physical and emotional damage of the past and bring about a real sense of reconciliation and partnership."

The deal was welcomed by all sides of the House.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Andrew Mackay said: "After all the horror, disappointments and false dawns of the past 30 years, this is perhaps the best opportunity we shall ever have to ensure a new beginning for Northern Ireland."

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who helped thrash out the settlement, warned of "considerable difficulties and, no doubt, setbacks" to come. He added: "It is important that this is seen as a settlement and not as just some milepost in the direction of some other eventual outcome."

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