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Monday, January 26, 1998 Published at 19:16 GMT


UDP leaves peace talks
image: [ UDP leaders walk out:
UDP leaders walk out: "We will not be humiliated."

UDP leader Gary McMichael says his party faced a "fait accompli" (2'02")
One of the Protestant parties in the Northern Ireland peace talks, the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), has announced it is withdrawing from the talks on the future of Northern Ireland.

The announcement to leave came just ahead of a decision by the British and Irish Governments that the party was no longer eligible to participate in the talks.

The UDP knew it was in danger of being expelled from the process because of its close links with a paramilitary group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), which last week admitted breaking its ceasefire to murder a number of Roman Catholics.

Announcing the decision, UDP leader Gary McMichael said he was not willing to see his party "humiliated" by being thrown out of the talks when they resumed.

Shortly after his announcement, Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam and Irish Government officials announced they had reached the decision to expel the UDP in consultation with the other parties at the talks.

Dr Mowlam said the party had breached the principle of non-violence required to take part in the talks.

She said the UDP could be allowed to return but only if there was a "complete, unequivocal, unqualified ceasefire through word and deed" which lasted a period of unspecified weeks.

She did not rule out that ministerial contact with the UDP could continue and said the Government would keep its options open.

"We are not walking away. We remain in a position where we seek to influence the process and we want back in as quickly as possible," Mr McMichael said after he had announced the party was leaving.

Representatives of parties arriving for the talks in London disagreed on whether it was up to them or to the government to decide whether the UDP should be expelled.

The talks were adjourned for two hours within an hour of commencing to consider the issue.

Since then, the attitudes of at least two main parties -- Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists -- had reportedly hardened against the UDP.

When they arrived at the talks both parties stated that any decision to expel the UDP had to be made by the government.

But officials from both parties were later reported as privately calling for the UDP to be expelled.

Talks switched to London amid spiralling violence

[ image: Mo Mowlam: difficult decision]
Mo Mowlam: difficult decision
As Mo Mowlam arrived for the talks at Lancaster House in London, she said the situation the government faced was a "moral contradiction" but insisted that she would have to talk to all the parties, including the UDP, before a decision was made.

"I'm not going to delay because I consider it a very serious matter," she said.

"We have seen what happens when you have a political vacuum. We've had a month of violence that no-one wants to see."

[ image: David Trimble:
David Trimble: "Face the issue"
David Trimble MP, leader of the Ulster Unionists said: "This was the secretary of state who abandoned the requirement to decommission and moved away from the foundation that this process was supposed to be built on .

"Now having done that she now finds herself in trouble. She has now to face the issue."

John Hume MP, leader of the mainly nationalist SDLP, said the matter had to be discussed. "There is a clear commitment in the talks process that all parties committed to that process must be totally and absolutely committed to democratic means."

[ image: The talks have moved to Lancaster House in London]
The talks have moved to Lancaster House in London
But the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, said responsibility for the UDP decision rested firmly with the British Government.

"The reason why the process is in crisis is because it is based on double standards. The onus is on the governments, the British Government especially, to sort this out, not the parties."

After he emerged from the adjourned talks Mr Adams said: "Catholics are not expendable in the efforts to arrest change in Northern Ireland.

"It's up to the government to take a decision and stop the fudge. If the IRA had committed these actions do you think the government would be in a dilemma?"

The UDP's leader, Gary McMichael, said on Sunday that the UFF was not to blame for the latest murders.

He called on all paramilitaries, especially the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force, to give up their guns.

"It is important that all those who are still engaged in campaigns end it now and recognise the implications of where we are going if the violence continues," added Mr McMichael.

Both the opposition Conservative Party and the Irish Government recommended that the party be thrown out of the talks.

"Only by taking a strong line will we be able to make progress in the talks and reach a lasting settlement in the province," said Conservative Northern Ireland spokesman Andrew Mackay.

The Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Mary Harney, said the Mitchell Principles had to be firm for the peace process to go on.

"It is not an a la carte menu where people can choose from time to time when it suits them," she said.

Business at the talks is due to move on to detailed proposals for the second strand of a settlement blueprint drawn up by the British and Irish Governments on Tuesday.

They hope their amendments to the proposals for cross-border institutions will produce a much-needed advance in the talks.

The initial blueprint, produced a day after Dr Mowlam emerged from the Maze, caused fresh antagonism between the assembled parties and was rejected by Sinn Fein as unworkable.

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