Major resists Anglo-Irish rethink

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Ministers are determined to reist calls for a radical rethink of the Anglo-Irish document on Northern Ireland's future in response to Ulster Unionist's outrage over the leak of extracts from the current draft.

As the Northern Ireland Office opened an official inquiry into the leak of highly selective but authentic and up-to-date extracts of the draft, there were strong signals in Whitehall last night that John Major is determined not to unravel the large measure of agreement already reached with Dublin.

The clear indication of the Government's resolve came as Dublin announced the release of five more IRA prisoners.

The Prime Minister gave no indication in the Commons yesterday of big changes in what had already been agreed, but was instead emphatic in appealing to MPs to wait until they had the chance to study the framework document "in its entirety" when it was finally published.

Civil servants in both governments met again yesterday to try to solve what Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, called a "few areas of complexity" - one of which is thought to revolve around the exact nature of the commitmentby Dublin to amend the Irish constitution's current claim over Northern Ireland - and reciprocal changes in British legislation.

But there is no serious attempt in London to dismiss the extracts published in the Times, which concentrated on the powers and scope of new cross-border bodies. Instead, it was argued that the extracts were taken out of a context which would explain the extent to which such bodies would be subject to the consent of a new Northern Ireland assembly.

Although there is no date fixed for a meeting between Mr Major and John Bruton, the Irish Taoiseach, to finalise the document, it is still widely assumed within the Government that such a meeting will take place at some point after that already scheduledfor 14 February between Sir Patrick Mayhew and Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister.

Mr Spring insisted yesterday that it was not necessary to rewrite the whole framework document and he called for compromise on all sides.

"I don't think we should set out to rewrite it. Most of the work is completed. What we have got to try to do is ensure there is balance in the document," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist MP for Upper Bann, said: "We are very worried that the greed of Dublin and the weakness of Stormont Castle are going to prejudice the peace process. Believe me, coming forward with proposals of this nature will derail the peace process."

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, last night exercised his right of reply to the Prime Minister's national broadcast to strongly endorse the Prime Minister's appeal for trust. He added that peace could only be guaranteed by the principle of consent.

And Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, became the first senior politician to voice concern about possible rivalry between the main Unionist parties, and positioning within the Ulster Unionists for the eventual succession to James Molyneaux, the party leader.

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