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Saturday, December 20, 1997 Published at 18:50 GMT


Unionists threaten peace talks walk-out
image: [ Unionists are angry that three IRA lifers are to be allowed out of the Maze Prison for Christmas ]
Unionists are angry that three IRA lifers are to be allowed out of the Maze Prison for Christmas

The Progressive Unionist Party is threatening to withdraw from the Northern Ireland peace talks because of the latest round of IRA prisoner releases.

The Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam will hold crisis talks with the PUP leaders on Monday after the party said it was "very unlikely" to be at the Stormont talks when they resume in January.

But PUP Spokesman Billy Hutchinson said: "As far as I am concerned this meeting is a total waste of time. I feel it's time to tell her to go away and forget about it because we are not going to be part of a process that is going to exclude us.

"The British Government have courted the IRA, they have bent over backwards and they have not done anything for us. I don't think there is any point going further in this process because Mo Mowlam will not create a level playing field."

The upset was prompted by the decision to allow three IRA prisoners - each a high-risk inmate serving multiple life sentences at the Maze Prison - to go home for Christmas and the New Year for the first time. They must return to jail after that.

Unionist discontent with the talks was further highlighted this week when a senior Ulster Unionist called on his party to reassess its involvement in the process. Jeffrey Donaldson, the MP for Lagan Valley, accused the Government of continually giving in to the IRA and said the "train of concessions" had to stop.

Privately, Ulster Unionists say they do not expect to pull out of the talks. But Seamus Close of the Alliance Party said certain parties were clearly "composing their exit strategies", adding: "They are running away and I feel that is very childish and also rather sinister. "What is the alternative to this process - it would be back once again to violence."


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