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Tuesday, August 31, 1999 Published at 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Mowlam faces legal challenge threat

Unionists in Northern Ireland are considering mounting a legal challenge to Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam's ruling that the IRA's ceasefire is intact.

The BBC's John Thorne: The politicians will quickly focus on the next steps
Dr Mowlam reached her decision on Thursday, despite conceding that the IRA murdered a Belfast taxi driver and was involved in the alleged smuggling of arms from the United States.

The Search for Peace
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A BBC correspondent in Northern Ireland, John Thorne, says Friday's newspapers in Belfast reflect the furious reaction of unionists.

He said the headlines suggest that what is described as Dr Mowlam's fudge over the veracity of the IRA ceasefire means the government has registered what the Newsletter calls "an acceptable level of murder in the province".

'Moral courage'

The BBC's Tom Coulter: "There is no definite conformation of this yet"
Unionists say they will seek a judicial review of Dr Mowlam's decision on the basis that she had failed to properly consider the appropriate legislation.

The Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson told The Guardian: "We are considering a legal challenge to overturn her ruling.

"If she lacks the moral courage ot face up to the IRA she should leave and let someone else come in who will."

Ken Maginnis, security spokesman for the UUP added: "There is no good in having a process if the process is actually protecting those involved in underlying violence."

On Thursday, unionist MPs accused Dr Mowlam of turning a blind eye to IRA murders by declaring the republican ceasefire was still holding.

They condemned her ruling that she will not impose any sanctions on Sinn Fein before the peace process review due in September.

Sinn Fein Party Chairman Mitchel McLaughlin: "We must continue our efforts"
But Sinn Fein's chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said Dr Mowlam's statement was the only decision available.

He said: "There is a considerable amount of violence and it emanates from right across this very sick society."

Irish junior Foreign Minister Liz O'Donnell said Dublin "fully shares and supports" Dr Mowlam's statement.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We absolutely concede that it was a very, very difficult political call to be made by the Secretary of State and as always we acknowledge the rigour and determination with which Dr Mowlam carried out her duties in very difficult political circumstances.

"Our overall judgment is that the ceasefire, though cracked, is not totally shattered and there is enough for us to keep on going."

But she said the Irish government 'deplored and condemned each and every act of violence'.

Dr Mowlam's comments followed a statement from the Royal Ulster Constabulary chief constable, that he believed the IRA was involved in the murder of north Belfast man Charles Bennett in July and recent gun smuggling.

'Deeply flawed'

Leader of the Ulster Unionists, David Trimble, described her decision as "deeply disappointing".

Mr Trimble, also First Minister of the Assembly, said Mr Bennett's murder left no doubt about the republican ceasefire.

David Trimble: "Deeply disappointing"
He said: "We have every reason to believe that the IRA as an organisation was behind the murder of Mr Bennett as it was behind the murder of other people in Northern Ireland this year and was also behind the attempted importation of weapons into the Belfast area.

"That is where I find the secretary of state's statement deeply disappointing and deeply flawed.

[ image: David Trimble: Shooting people is not a ceasfire]
David Trimble: Shooting people is not a ceasfire
"This is a breach of a ceasefire and I'm sorry the secretary of state was not able to tell the people the simple truth."

Mr Trimble also said Dr Mowlam appeared to be accepting the IRA's definition of a ceasefire.

He said: "A ceasefire is a ceasefire is a ceasefire and you're not on a ceasefire if you are shooting people."

Despite unionist fury that IRA prison releases will not be suspended, Mr Trimble said he would use the review, to be headed by Senator George Mitchell on 6 September, to put pressure on all the paramilitary groups.

Listen to Mo Mowlam's statement in full
In her announcement on Thursday, Dr Mowlam said she had made her decision on the ceasefire because an ''imperfect peace is better than none''.

She said: "Although the situation in relation to the IRA is deeply worrying, I do not believe that there is a sufficient basis to conclude that the IRA ceasefire has broken down.

"Nor do I believe it is disintegrating. But I want to make it very clear that I have come very close to judging that the IRA's ceasefire is no longer for real."

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