While a number of key areas remain at issue, ministers and officials have worked through more than a dozen drafts and are at an advanced stage towards a final text.
The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, said yesterday that 70 per cent of the document had been agreed. While neither side was predicting success, it seems unlikely the process will fall apart at this late stage.
However, the mood in Northern Ireland was sombre following the killing of two policemen in an IRA ambush on their unmarked car in the centre of Fivemiletown, Co Tyrone. At least 20 shots pierced the vehicle. The dead men were named last night as Constable William John Andrew Beacom, 46, and Reserve Constable Ernest Frederic Smith, 49. Eighty-two people have been killed by terrorists in Northern Ireland this year.
Dublin and London aim to make a formal restatement of their policies to convince the IRA that its campaign of violence is redundant, while reassuring Unionists of their position within the UK.
Of central importance will be a reference to the self-determination of the Irish people, a point fundamental to the IRA and Sinn Fein. The governments will try to find a formulation to the effect that Irish unity could come about only with the agreement of both parts of the island, which would collectively or respectively exercise their right to self-determination.
The declaration is likely to consist of agreed sections, with separate pronouncements from the Prime Minister and Taoiseach, who are due to speak on the telephone today.
The latter could declare that imposing a united Ireland without the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland would be wrong.
The Government appears prepared to affirm that it would enter talks with Sinn Fein three months after a permanent IRA ceasefire. Dublin is prepared to say that once the IRA campaign has ended Sinn Fein would be represented at a convention or forum. The British relationship with such a convention remains unclear.
Mr Reynolds indicated yesterday that he was not pressing for the inclusion in the declaration of a British acknowledgement of the validity or value of Irish unity. That could be discussed in the wider talks he hoped would follow a ceasefire. Whitehall sources expressed some satisfaction with that.Reuse content