Leak over Irish unity threatens Ulster talks: Dublin document alarms Unionists and underlines constitutional gap with London

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The Independent Online
HOPES of inter-party talks on Northern Ireland suffered a sharp setback yesterday as Unionist unease was greatly increased by the leak of an Irish government document seeking British 'acknowledgement of the full legitimacy and value of the goal of Irish unity'.

The comprehensive leak to the Irish Press in Dublin of a draft position paper was swiftly followed by a clear warning from a leading Ulster Unionist, Ken Maginnis, that John Major should not 'compromise essential principles' when he meets his counterpart, Albert Reynolds, for talks on Northern Ireland next month.

The Irish draft appeared to be a preliminary version of a document for which the Northern Ireland Office has been waiting for several weeks, with growing impatience. British officials said last night they remained keen to see the official version. Although the document does not have the approval of Mr Reynolds or his deputy, Dick Spring, it appears to underline a gap between Dublin and London on the basis for a constitutional settlement - and an even wider one between Dublin and the Ulster Unionists.

Its wording is likely to intensify fears among the Unionists that an agreement between London and Dublin will set the agenda for talks in the province and that Dublin is still envisaging some form of 'joint authority' of the two governments over the province.

If the draft document, or something close to it, becomes Irish government policy, this will come as a severe disappointment to the British government. London has been hoping for a Dublin approach that would promise significant concessions to Unionists on articles two and three of the Irish constitution, laying claim to jurisdiction over Northern Ireland.

The Dublin position, as revealed in the document, shows that in return for any move on the two articles the Irish government would expect a much-strengthened Irish dimension. Even to moderate Unionist opinion, that would be unacceptable. The development, therefore, marks a considerable setback for the British government's hope that concessions from Dublin could unlock the door to future concessions from Unionists.

Mr Maginnis said in the House of Commons yesterday that it was for the people of Northern Ireland to decide their future, and that the Dublin government must not be given a 'pre-emptive veto' on moves towards a settlement.

Mr Maginnis added that his party would accept Sinn Fein participation in any talks only after a 'stringent verification programme' that had to include the IRA underpinning a renunciation of violence by surrendering all arms and explosives.

Mr Maginnis, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said there was no question of Sinn Fein coming to talks with 'mud on their boots and blood on their hands'.

The leak coincided with an angry reaction from the Democratic Unionist Party to Mr Major's assertion on Thursday in the Commons - seen as a warning to the DUP - that no party could have a 'veto on progress'. Ian Paisley, the party's leader, said that contradicted what the Prime Minister had told him at their recent meeting at Downing Street. 'The Prime Minister told us at the meeting that everybody had a veto, including the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party). I would like to know now who he says has no veto,' he said.

Meanwhile, John Hume, the SDLP leader, confirmed that he would meet Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, to report back on his meeting with Mr Major.

Sean Kelly, 19, yesterday appeared at a special court in Musgrave Park hospital, Belfast, charged with the murder of nine people in the IRA bomb attack on the Shankill Road on 23 October. Mr Kelly, who has been under police guard since arriving for treatment after the explosion, walked slowly into the makeshift courtroom in the secure wing, with stitches all over his face.

He denies the charges and will remain in the hospital until 10 December.