British PM backs peace in first Northern Ireland visit

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British Prime Minister David Cameron warned dissident militants in Northern Ireland Thursday of his "absolute" commitment to the peace process as he made his first official visit to the province.

After talks with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in Belfast, Cameron reaffirmed his government's backing for devolution, which he said was here to stay.

"Let me say this to those people who still want to wreck progress and peace in Northern Ireland, that taking part in terror will not achieve anything apart from misery," he told reporters.

"Our commitment to Northern Ireland, our commitment to the devolved institutions, is absolute."

Although three decades of civil strife were largely ended by the 1998 Good Friday peace accords, sporadic violence still plagues the province, most recently in a car bomb left in Londonderry on election day on May 6.

Dissident republicans opposed to the peace process are usually blamed.

Cameron also addressed the question of the public spending cuts promised by his Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to help pay off a record deficit.

There are fears that Northern Ireland, where one in three workers are employed by the state, would be particularly hit.

"No part of the United Kingdom will be singled out for cuts, of course not. But we all are in this together, we all have to deal with the deficit together," Cameron said.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson went further, telling reporters it was "just not sustainable" for 70 percent of the province's gross domestic product to be dependent on public spending.

"We've said it's irresponsible to do nothing but we've said its equally irresponsible to do anything too drastic," he said.

Cameron also looked forward to what he hoped would be "very good relations" between Britain and the Republic of Ireland, saying: "The telephone lines will be open and I'm sure often buzzing."

And he backed the idea of a state visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth II, saying: "I think that is an excellent idea." A British monarch has not stepped foot on Irish soil for almost 100 years.

© 2010 AFP

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