End All Terrorist Activity, Says PM; Blair Wants Bread and Butter Issues to Top Debate in Province

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Byline: DAN McGINN

THERE has to be an end to all forms of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Tony Blair demanded last night.

Mr Blair, who announced along with Chancellor Gordon Brown, new borrowing powers for the Northern Ireland power-sharing government which could pump billions of pounds into its budget, stressed that the new political dispensation in the Province needed to be underpinned by an end to republican and loyalists paramilitary activity.

Amid concerns about IRA activity in the wake of the break-in, in March at Castlereagh Police Station, he said: "I entirely understand why the people of Northern Ireland will feel that, yes, it is great that the peace process is going forward, but we have to know that it is solidly founded.

"Government is not turning a blind eye to forms of paramilitary activity and we aren't.

"But there has to be an end to all forms of paramilitary activity and indeed, the more this process goes on, the more important it is that there is no ambiguity about that."

Mr Blair said he understood that it had taken time for people to come to terms with the new political climate in the Province since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

However, he said: "I think the time is coming very, very shortly where it has to be made absolutely clear that there is no half-way house.

"There is either a total democratic commitment or there isn't."

The Prime Minister was commenting amid growing concerns in unionism about the intentions of republicans in the peace process.

Despite a second act of IRA disarmament, Ulster Unionists led by Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble succeeded in staging a debate on Monday at the Stormont Assembly calling on the Government to make an urgent assessment of the IRA ceasefire.

Their bid failed to attract enough votes despite unionist concerns about Castlereagh, allegations that the IRA has been targeting senior Conservative politicians and that the group has been part of an international terrorist network involving Iranians, Cubans and Basque separatists who have links to left-wing rebels in Colombia.

Sinn Fein and the IRA have furiously denied the ceasefire has been breached or that they were involved in the Castlereagh break-in during which a number of sensitive Special Branch documents were stolen.

The Prime Minister yesterday acknowledged the concerns that existed about the peace process.

Speaking at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast, he nevertheless pointed to the progress that was being made.

With the Government making available former British Army land and prisons to the Northern Ireland Executive and low interest loans from the Treasury to enable the power-sharing government of Unionists and Nationalists to upgrade public services, he hoped political debate in the Province would soon be dominated by bread and butter issues like health, transport and education.

"I think we have got used to the fact that this is a difficult process, that there are times when there are real problems," he said.

"We also know, when we take a step back and look at all that we have achieved, that an immense amount has been done. …