The plan was disclosed by Downing Street yesterday as arrangements were being made for John Major, the Prime Minister, to meet John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, this week, probably on Thursday.
Mr Major reiterated that he did not believe proposals that emerged from the talks between Mr Hume and Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, were 'the right way to proceed'. Government proposals would give 'focus and direction' to fresh talks.
Senior government sources refused to disclose what the proposals would cover. There was speculation that they could amount to little more than a modified version of the blueprint drawn up by Sir Patrick Mayhew for the inter-party talks which failed to get off the ground in the summer.
That plan was believed to include proposals for a devolved assembly, with joint executive boards for issues of common interest to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, such as trade and tourism.
But it could also build on the accord reached between Mr Major and Albert Reynolds, the Taoiseach last Friday. James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionists, is to consult with his party before responding. The Government is prepared to hold the talks away from Belfast if necessary. In response to a question from the former Chancellor, Norman Lamont, Mr Major confirmed that the question of an amnesty did not arise because there were 'no political prisoners anywhere in the UK'.
But MPs noted that he did not take up Mr Lamont's invitation to rule out 'any negotiations with anyone who has been involved in terrorism in the past'.
There is much speculation that an unprecedented gap has opened up between Mr Hume's party and the Irish government, which has in effect rejected his efforts. Successive Dublin administrations have made a point of staying close to the position of the SDLP, traditionally seen as a bulwark against the IRA and Sinn Fein.
In Belfast, Mr Adams said the Government had been 'inexcusably negative and dismissive' in its reaction to the Hume-Adams initiative.
Andrew Marr, page 19Reuse content