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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 21:00 GMT 22:00 UK
Reid welcomes IRA apology
Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern
Mr Blair met Mr Ahern earlier this month
The UK government has welcomed the IRA's apology to its civilian victims.


I strongly hope that the statement means that the IRA has at last turned its face unequivocally on violence

Dr John Reid
But Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid said he hoped it meant the organisation had turned its back on violence forever.

The IRA's statement was also welcomed by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

But Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Quentin Davies stressed the IRA's words had to be backed by "deeds".

Sanctions threat

The apology comes at a crucial time for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Ulster Unionists have called for Sinn Fein ministers to be thrown out of the power sharing government at Stormont because of continuing IRA activity.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble last month gave Prime Minister Tony Blair until 24 July - the day Parliament rises for the summer recess - to state what sanctions he is prepared to take.

Speaking earlier to the BBC, Dr Reid warned against reading too much into the timing of the IRA's statement "because I would rather have had this a long time ago."

But speaking in a Conservative-led debate on the peace process on Tuesday evening, he welcomed the apology.

Dr John Reid
Reid: wants all paramilitaries disbanded
"The statement which the IRA made this afternoon (Tuesday) is, I believe, a welcome acknowledgement of the grief and the loss which the organisation has caused over the years of pointless and tragic conflict for which they were responsible.

"I particularly welcome the fact that the statement includes an open apology to the families of many of those who died.

"Of course actions speak louder than words but the words that we have heard today are I believe more persuasive than those that the IRA have so far brought themselves to utter.

But he added: "I strongly hope that the statement means that the IRA has at last turned its face unequivocally on violence."

'All paramilitaries'

The real test, Dr Reid said, was "whether the transition from violence to democracy continues and in so doing gives confidence to the whole process".

The IRA's acknowledgement of regret would not be recognised by ordinary people unless they were certain it would never happen again, he added.

Those who had suffered would need to have "the confidence that the events which caused those tragic misery, pain and losses are gone forever, that they will never occur again."

He said he wanted to see "all paramilitaries in Northern Ireland disbanded completely."

'Positive gesture'

The IRA statement was given a cautious welcome by shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Quentin Davies.

"I hope that those whose instinct is to reject anything that comes from the IRA - and I understand why that would be - would think long and hard and coolly about this," he told BBC News 24.

It was a "very positive gesture", he added, and "very unusual" in the context of Northern Ireland politics.

But, opening a Tory-led debate on the peace process, he insisted that "deeds" must follow.

Liberal Democrat Northern Ireland spokesman Lembit Opik said the IRA's statement should be "recognised as a positive contribution to the peace process."

Blair 'not absolved'

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said the IRA's statement said nothing about recent violence or the future conduct of the IRA.

As a result, it did not "absolve" Prime Minister Tony Blair of the need to make clear what the government would do "in the event of breaches (of the ceasefire) by the republican movement".

He added: "If the government uses this statement as an excuse not to fulfil those undertakings, the government will create a very dangerous situation indeed."

Mr Blair met Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern at Hillsborough earlier this month in an effort to avert a full-blown political crisis in Northern Ireland.

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 ON THIS STORY
Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid
"It's an acknowledgement of unprecedented strength"
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis

Analysis

Background

SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

16 Jul 02 | N Ireland
16 Jul 02 | Talking Point
16 Jul 02 | N Ireland
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