Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam visits loyalist and republican prisoners in the Maze in an effort to move the peace talks forward.

The visit by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland sees her visit to the prison as a proactive attempt to make progress in the peace process.

The Maze was a focal point of a troubled peace process today as Mo Mowlam arrived for a visit that had been variously described as mad or brave.

Mo Mowlam was at the Maze Prison to meet prisoners from the outlawed Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who had withdrawn their support for their representatives returning to Stormont. The Northern Secretary spent nearly two hours with the men and also visited Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) wings of the prison. Mo Mowlam said that she was sorry if her visit had caused offence to victims of the paramilitaries but said that she had an important message for the prisoners.

The message that I brought was very clear and simple. The only way that we're going to make progress towards a permanent peace in Northern Ireland is by taking a proactive stance and talking to reach the broadest possible agreement.

Mo Mowlam said that prisoner grievances could only be addressed if progress was made towards peace. She stressed that the only place where political progress could be made was at the talks table. 

Following the visit, John White of the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), addressed the press outlining that they would no longer oppose the continued participation of the UDP in peace negotiations. Gary McMichael also of the UDP warned that changes would have to take place to avoid another talks crisis.

We need to see the British government, our government, standing up on its own two feet, not being driven by the Irish government.

Liz O'Donnell TD gave the Irish government's response to developments at the Maze saying that Mo Mowlam's visit has helped to focus the talks in brokering a peace settlement for Northern Ireland. 

Reporting from the Maze Prison, David Davin-Power comments,

For now, it looks like Mo Mowlam's gamble in meeting the UDA has paid off and their political representatives are going to return to the talks.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 9 January 1998. The reporter is David Davin-Power.