Wednesday, September 1, 1999 Published at 20:02 GMT 21:02 UK
UK: Northern Ireland
Hague: Blair 'betraying' Northern Ireland
Tony Blair fudged the ceasefire issue, Mr Hague says
The fragile consensus between the main political parties on Northern Ireland has been dealt a severe blow by the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, William Hague.
In a strongly-worded newspaper article, he attacked the government's handling of the Northern Ireland peace process and its decision that the IRA ceasefire remains intact.
He also said the ruling that the ceasefire was holding "quite simply flies in the face of the admitted facts and smells of fudge and sham."
The Conservatives have demanded a halt to prisoner releases as a sanction against the republican movement, amid growing anger over punishment beatings and IRA threats.
But they have been condemned by Labour and the Liberal Democrats who say the remarks will not assist the peace process.
"The integrity of the peace process requires, and Tony Blair's own integrity demands, that he now steps in and demonstrates to the IRA that the agreement means what it says and he means what he says," he said.
The attack comes after Mr Blair indicated that he fully supported Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam's controversial verdict on the ceasefire.
Dr Mowlam dismissed the Tory leaders intervention as "sniping at the sidelines" that would be unhelpful to the peace process.
Lib Dem Northern Ireland spokesman Lembit Opik also attacked Mr Hague's remarks.
He accused the Tory leader of trying to make political capital out of the crisis in the peace process.
"There are no party political points to be gained by making it hard in Northern Ireland.
"And if not what does he propose to do to try and get peace in Northern Ireland."
The Northern Ireland secretary's ceasefire decision has infuriated Unionists. They say that a recent murder, the discovery of an alleged gun-running plot and a string of death threats to people suspected of "anti-social behaviour" are all proof that IRA violence has not stopped.
Hague 'entitled to criticise'
But Mr Hague was defended by former Tory defence minister Michael Mates.
He said that it had been "a very serious error of judgement" for the government to say the IRA ceasefire was still intact and that the Conservative leader had been "entitled" to point that out.
He insisted that the Tories remained committed to supporting the government in its efforts to secure a lasting peace.
Mr Hague's attack on government policy also coincided with a fresh appeal by Dr Mowlam to the province's political parties to participate in the review of the Good Friday Agreement.
The review is intended to end the peace process stalemate over paramilitary arms decommissioning.
Neither Sinn Fein nor the Ulster Unionists have decided yet whether they will take part.
Mr Mates has also urged all sides to join in. "I certainly hope that all the parties will be there otherwise George Mitchell's review will be incomplete," he said