John Major is considering proposals put to him by Mr Hume, who has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy with Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein. If Mr Major makes a supportive statement about the peace process, a cease- fire could come into place next month.
Sinn Fein is seeking assurances from the Prime Minister that talks on the future of the province will be comprehensive, all-inclusive, without pre-conditions and set within an acceptable time-frame. The republicans also want to see "confidence building measures" to improve the atmosphere for discussions.
Mr Major is most unlikely to go as far as Sinn Fein wants, but Downing Street said yesterday that the government was in touch with constitutional politicians. Any cease-fire would have to be "unequivocal and believable".
Mr Hume said yesterday: "The reason the last cease-fire broke down after 18 months was because of distrust. I believe the cease-fire can be restored if trust is rebuilt, by the Government restating clearly its attitude and its commitment to the talks process."
Dr Joe Hendron, SDLP MP for West Belfast went further, saying a cease- fire was "imminent". He added: "There will be one before Christmas. I have no doubt about that. I expect the government to make an announcement about Sinn Fein's entry to the talks, but only after a cease-fire is declared."
Opinion among the Unionists was divided last night. David Trimble, leader of the UUP, insisted: "I do not think there will be a cease-fire at this stage." But Peter Robinson of the hard-line DUP, said: "People seem to be making comments as if it was part of a script. It seems to be the kind of rehearsed introduction of a Government cave-in and another tactical cease-fire."
David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to loyalist paramilitaries, said: "It looks as if we are moving inexorably towards a cease-fire... maybe. The ritual dance has started, but I don't trust the IRA."Reuse content