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Friday, January 9, 1998 Published at 19:02 GMT


Mowlam persuades loyalists to back talks
image: [ Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam talks to Maze governor Martin Mogg ]
Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam talks to Maze governor Martin Mogg

BBC's Denis Murray reports on the extraordinary events at the Maze (3'11')
Loyalist paramilitaries inside the Maze Prison have withdrawn their opposition to the peace talks following a meeting with the Northern Ireland Secretary.

The Ulster Democratic Party, which represents the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Freedom Fighters, said it would be at Monday's talks at Stormont.

Prisoners voted to restore their support for the peace process despite reservations, said Gary McMichael of the UDP.

The Ulster Volunteer Force's political wing, the Progressive Unionist Party, said it would meet on Sunday to decide whether to follow suit.

BBC's Denis Murray on Mowlam's reasons for visiting the Maze (1'31'')
Mo Mowlam had described her 90-minute meeting with loyalist inmates as "constructive and useful".

She said she had told them the only way to a settlement in Northern Ireland was through negotiation. Multi-party talks are due to resume on Monday in Stormont.

At a news conference, Dr Mowlam said: "The meeting that I had with them was useful. It is now for the prisoners to think about it and I hope that they will reach the decision to support the talks on Monday.

"There is in my mind no other way forward."

[ image: Loyalist and republican prisoners are held in the Maze]
Loyalist and republican prisoners are held in the Maze
Dr Mowlam said she had presented a 14-point paper to the prisoners and gone through it in detail with them.

But she denied the men, convicted of murder and other violent crimes, were holding a "metaphorical gun" to her head over the controversy.

She added: "I reminded the prisoners the only way their concerns can be addressed is through their representatives at the talks.

"I made it totally clear that there won't be a settlement without everybody getting round the table."

[ image: John Adair: the UFF leader has met Dr Mowlam before]
John Adair: the UFF leader has met Dr Mowlam before
Dr Mowlam added: "We still have a chance to move the process forward. I don't believe that it's lost."

John White, the political representative of the loyalist prisoners, said the meeting had lasted more than an hour, twice its scheduled duration.

[ image: Michael Stone: Met Mo Mowlam for the second time]
Michael Stone: Met Mo Mowlam for the second time
He described the talks as helpful and positive.

Dr Mowlam's unprecedented talks with men convicted of murder and other violent crimes followed the prisoners' call for their political representatives to pull out of peace talks.

A republican protest had greeted Dr Mowlam as she arrived at the Maze.

Her car did not stop as demonstrators shouted demands for the prompt release of convicts they describe as political prisoners.

Dr Mowlam said she did see republican prisoners during her visit to the jail but did not hold talks with them as her focus was restoring loyalist belief in the ceasefire.

The republicans told her to "keep going," she added.

A Government source said on Friday night: "There is general satisfaction that efforts by the Secretary of State appeared to have paid off."

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The Maze - home to paramilitaries

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