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Thursday, May 21, 1998 Published at 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK

'Trust me' appeals Blair

Tony Blair: tried to allay unionist fears and urge yes vote (7'40")
Tony Blair has urged the people of Northern Ireland to trust him to make the Stormont Agreement work.

"Trust me and trust yourselves to make it work," Mr Blair said in an interview with the BBC's Breakfast News.

The prime minister is in Northern Ireland for the third time in as many weeks campaigning for a yes vote in Friday's referendum.

He issued a ringing endorsement of the agreement as the only way forward for peace in the province. "If we really do get the chance of a new start in Northern Ireland, then think of the future that could give our children.

"I was speaking to a young student last night from the unionist community, who said to me he was going to vote yes, and said to me 'I've known nothing else but the troubles' ... and he wanted his children to grow up in a different type of Northern Ireland," he said.

Many unionists are concerned about plans for the early release of paramilitary prisoners and the possiblility of representatives linked to paramilitaries taking senior posititons in the Northern Ireland assembly.

These fears dominated a television debate in which the prime minister repeated his assurances that the agreement provided proper safeguards against those who fail to renounce violence.

Mr Blair also tried to reassure the unionist community, many of whom are uneasy about the agreement's proposals for decomissioning.

"There is an entire chapter devoted to decomissioning, and decomissioning is merely one test among many others.

"All these bombings, killings, beatings and targetings have got to stop," he said.

"There's no question of people being allowed to employ some dual strategy, of the ballot box on the one hand, and the gun on the other.

"But what we're doing is offering people the chance to cross that bridge from violence to democracy and if they do then they can be part of the future in Northern Ireland."

Campaigning for a no vote, the UK Unionist leader Bob McCartney has called on the public not to be swayed by any last-minute pledges or reassurances from the prime minister when they vote in the referendum.

Mr McCartney said the agreement was a multi-party document which could not be altered unilaterally by any party or anyone, including Tony Blair.

Meanwhile, Mr Blair refused to be drawn on how big a majority he wanted to see in the referendum. "The bigger the vote is, the better it is, the easier it is to make the whole thing work.

"I am concerned that we get as big a support in the unionist as well as the nationalist communities as possible."

Mr Blair was forced, reluctantly, to concede that defeat for the agreement is possible.

"The majority is the majority ... but obviously we want as large a vote as possible, but if people vote no, well ... then we just have to pick up the pieces," he said.

"I hope that people understand that it isn't a choice between the agreement that is on offer ... and what we have now. The difference is the agreement and going backwards, and I want Northern Ireland to go forwards."

And Mr Blair insisted that the referendum was not the end of the peace process, and he would remain committed to making it work.

"I'll be back after Friday, no matter what happens, I'll be back regularly. I've devoted as much time to Northern Ireland as to any other single issue on government since I've been elected prime minister of the country, and I intend to carry on doing so."

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