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Tuesday, May 19, 1998 Published at 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK

Blair speaks of revulsion over rally
image: [ Michael Stone (second left) makes his controversial appearance at a Northern Ireland rally ]
Michael Stone (second left) makes his controversial appearance at a Northern Ireland rally

Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken of public "revulsion" at seeing loyalist killer Michael Stone getting a hero's reception at a rally in Northern Ireland.

His comments came amid anger that Stone, jailed for opening fire on mourners at an IRA funeral in 1988, was temporarily freed from prison to back an Ulster Democratic Party campaign for a Yes vote in next week's Northern Ireland referendum.

Mr Blair said he understood the "revulsion" people felt at seeing Stone on television.

[ image: Loyalist killer Michael Stone]
Loyalist killer Michael Stone
A Downing Street spokesman said Stone, jailed for 648 years for the funeral attack and previous murders, was not given parole because of the forthcoming referendum.

The temporary parole was granted because he had served 10 years, and the spokesman added: "However despicable his crimes are, systems are followed and life goes on. But that's not to say that it didn't look very, very bad, and that the timing was unfortunate, to say the least."

"The Prime Minister didn't know in advance, and he could have done without it. But also it is important to continue to focus on the big picture.

"The agreement which is going to the referendum next week is about putting an end to this. It's about ending the situation and ensuring the war is over for good and Northern Ireland can enjoy peace, and peace with prosperity."

Latest opinion polls in Northern Ireland suggest the Yes vote could be slipping, following the decision to release IRA prisoners to attend a special Sinn Fein conference in Dublin.

But government officials claim their own private polling shows Mr Blair's appearance on Ulster Television this week helped allay people's concerns about the future.

Mr Blair is expected to visit the Northern Ireland again before the referendum next Friday, despite a busy schedule including this weekend's G8 summit, the European Union-US summit in London on Monday, and a visit to the World Trade Organisation summit in Geneva on Tuesday.

His spokesman added: "He is determined to up his involvement and continue to maintain the momentum."

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