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Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK


UK Politics

Blair's difficult days

Tony Blair: Endless series of impassioned pleas

By BBC Northern Ireland Correspondent David Eades

It seems every day in Northern Ireland is a day for impassioned pleas for reason, trust and peace.

The Search for Peace
The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on Monday set out on a further mission to clarify to the Ulster Unionists the extent of what they're being offered in the peace process.

He promised the executive they crave giving them power once again in their own province - albeit in the company of Sinn Fein - and the end of IRA weapons within 10 months.


[ image: Deal offers prospect of Sinn Fein exclusion if decommissioning fails]
Deal offers prospect of Sinn Fein exclusion if decommissioning fails
What is more, if the IRA fails to deliver, "guaranteed failsafes" could leave unionists running Northern Ireland without Sinn Fein.

If, at any point along a detailed step-by-step timetable, the IRA fails to pursue the process of weapons decommissioning, the executive will "unwind" in Tony Blair's language.

It amounts to an automatic procedure, independent of politics and politicians, by which the republican movement as a whole is punished for failing to deliver.

And to ensure the other parties to the executive do not suffer, Mr Blair says they can move forward together if they wish - presumably in a new executive, excluding Sinn Fein.

But for all these clarifications, the Ulster Unionists' greatest fear is that, once the executive is set up, the pressure to keep it going no matter, what will be immense.


[ image: SDLP remain unclear about whether they would sit in an executive without Sinn Fein]
SDLP remain unclear about whether they would sit in an executive without Sinn Fein
Besides, they do not trust the nationalist SDLP to cast Sinn Fein aside and form a new executive with the unionists if the IRA defaults.

This is one of the issues, which dominated debate in the marathon talks last week, and in this roundabout of a negotiating process, the SDLP has avoided a direct response to that question.

As for Sinn Fein, they have accused Mr Blair of trying to rewrite the Good Friday Agreement and suggested that no nationalist group would wish to go along with it. A miserable return, then, for a hard day's work for the prime minister.

And yet Mr Blair's offer is tantalisingly close now to offending each party in equal measure. That may be a better bet than trying to satisfy any one of them fully.



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