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Thursday, May 14, 1998 Published at 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK

Blair jets in to woo unionists
image: [ The Prime Minister during his visit to Belfast last week ]
The Prime Minister during his visit to Belfast last week

BBC Correspondent Tom Coulter says the visit illustrates Tony Blair's concern about unionist support for the deal (1'04")
Tony Blair is due to fly to Northern Ireland to make a final direct appeal to voters there to back the Stormont agreement.

It is the second visit by the UK prime minister in eight days as he pushes for a Yes vote in the referendum on May 22.

The majority of the nationalist community is expected to back the agreement. But the government is worried that unionist support is wavering.

Dr Sydney Elliott of Queen's University, Belfast: "When pushed, undecided voters are breaking 3 to 1 on the No side"
In a bid to address the concerns of this community, Mr Blair on Wednesday stressed again that Sinn Fein could not join the new Northern Ireland executive while still holding "guns under the table".

'Best shot to bring peace'

[ image: Both sides of the Irish border will vote]
Both sides of the Irish border will vote
Appearing on Ulster TV's Live Insight programme, the prime minister described the Good Friday agreement as "my best shot" to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Mr Blair indicated that as the referendum approached he would be willing to offer further "clarification" on the aspects of the deal which could prove the most controversial said that reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the early release of paramilitary prisoners and the handover of terrorist weapons all reached "deep into people's emotions".

'Unequivocal end to violence'

David Ervine from the Progressive Unionist Party rates Blair's chances of turning around the loyalist vote (31")
In particular, he emphasised the importance of decommissioning to the whole peace agreement.

"There must be no question of people believing they are entering into this agreement and saying yes to it, but not saying yes to the obligations of decommissioning that are there, too," he said.

[ image: The prime minister insists paramilitaries must hand in their arms]
The prime minister insists paramilitaries must hand in their arms
"People need to know that if they are sitting down in the room of the executive of the Northern Ireland assembly with other people then they are not sitting there with the guns under the table, outside the door and all the rest of it.

Mr Blair added: "There is no way, whatever, that people can sit in the government even if there is some ceasefire and it is a tactical ceasefire.

"It has got to be a complete, unequivocal end to violence."

Release of paramilitaries

Ulster Unionist MP William Ross: "Blair is helpless to convert people" (24")
The prime minister also acknowledged the concern caused by the proposed early release of paramilitary prisoners under the agreement and said he had "hedged it about" with as many conditions as possible.

But he added: "There has never been an agreement in these circumstances where there has not been prisoners as part of it."

'Revulsion' at welcome for prisoners

[ image: IRA prisoners were treated as heroes at Sinn Fein's conference]
IRA prisoners were treated as heroes at Sinn Fein's conference
Much of the unionists' concerns crystalised over the appearance of the infamous Balcombe Street gang - who carried out a series of killings in the 1970s - at the Sinn Fein party conference on Sunday.

The four were allowed out of Portlaiose jail for 36 hours to attend the Dublin conference, having been transferred to the Republic from English prisons last week.

Andrew Hunder, chairman of the Conservative Northern Ireland backbench committee, condemns the prisoners' release (29")
Mr Blair said that he understood and shared the "emotional impact" their appearance had made.

"You feel a sense of revulsion - people who have murdered people, out there on a platform," he said.

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In this section

Blair speaks of revulsion over rally

Notorious prisoner applauded

Blair tries to reassure unionists

Peace threatens Jail jobs

Confronting the pain of the past

Mowlam appoints 'Minister for Victims'

Victims of violence need support

The Yes campaign

The No campaign

Devoted veterans of voting

Mixed reception for Bloomfield report

Key elements to the early release of prisoners