Maginnis mediates in Ulster talks row

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The Independent Online

Political Editor

A leading Ulster Unionist yesterday sought to calm the new row between his party and the Government as fresh details emerged on how ministers intend to proceed to all-party talks on 10 June.

Ken Maginnis, the party's security spokesman, was speaking in the wake of a Northern Ireland Office document which provoked an angry reaction from the UUP leader, David Trimble, at the end of last week, Mr Maginnis criticised "ambiguities" in the proposals but added: "I haven't got terribly excited about the document."

The document has irritated Unionists by appearing to give the Irish as well as the British government some say in the progress of the all-party talks by setting up a "co-ordinating committee" composed of representatives of both governments.

And it also makes clear that the first session of all-party talks would "address" rather than oblige all parties, including Sinn Fein, immediately to honour the tough conditions on decommissioning set down by the Mitchell report.

But as Mr Maginnis made it clear that the Ulster Unionists would definitely take part in the talks, there were growing hopes among their number that the Cabinet Committee on Northern Ireland would back a version of the multi-constituency electoral system favoured by the UUP.

A government statement is expected on Thursday, laying out the system for the conduct of elections to the body from which representatives taking part in the talks would be chosen. The Government is also thought to be warming to the idea of a referendum designed to underline the opposition to violence on both sides of the border. This is distinct from the referendums which would endorse, much later, any proposals for change in the status of Northern Ireland resulting from the all-party talks.

The document also makes clear that if it is impossible to achieve unanimity in the all-party talks, they could proceed on the basis of "sufficient consensus among the political parties" if it resulted in a decision acceptable to majorities of both the nationalist and Unionist communities. This would appear to suggest that while Sinn Fein would unable to veto progress, a settlement could not proceed without the assent of Ulster Unionists.

Asked about the NIO proposals on BBC Television's Breakfast with Frost programme, Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, said : "This is only one of three documents that is in circulation at the present time. What I would be saying to all the leaders is `look at all the documentation in its totality'."