Major to face down Unionists: Ulster talks given top priority by Prime Minister as he warns that no party has veto on peace process

JOHN MAJOR stepped up the momentum of the Northern Ireland peace process by making it clear for the first time yesterday that he was prepared to table new proposals with or without all-party agreement to fresh round-table talks.

The Prime Minister used his opening speech to the new session of Parliament to put Northern Ireland at the top of his agenda and deliver what was interpreted as a clear warning to Ian Paisley's hard-line Democratic Unionist Party that they could not block his accelerated efforts to reach a settlement.

Mr Major moved the conflict to 'the head of our priorities', amplifying the reference to Northern Ireland in the Queen's Speech. He gave a clear warning that he would allow 'no party or organisation to veto progress'.

Downing Street has previously said it would table new constitutional proposals only if enough progress had been made for all the parties to convene at a conference.

In a passage which overshadowed his outline of a populist 'back to basics' legislative programme, centred on law and order and deregulation, he underlined his determination to build on the 'palpable mood for peace' in Northern Ireland.

The Government was simultaneously seeking 'a permanent end to violence' - underlined by its offer, repeated yesterday, to Sinn Fein of a place at the negotiating table if the IRA renounced violence for good - and a political settlement.

At present ministers were talking bilaterally to the constitutional parties because a premature attempt to convene a round-table conference would be 'counter-productive'. But the Prime Minister added: 'If at an appropriate time, it will help the process to put proposals of our own on the table, we shall do so.'

Downing Street sources, freely indicating that this was a shift in the Government's position, said such proposals, if made, would cover all three 'strands' included in previous talks - internal democracy for Northern Ireland, the North-South relationship, and that between London and Dublin.

Although the Northern Ireland Office is known to be concerned that Dublin has yet to come forward with detailed plans of how it would amend Articles II and III of the constitution - laying claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland - one Downing Street source said that London and Dublin were 'now borrowing each other's language'.

But in a clear effort to prevent unrealistic expectations of the summit meeting next month between Mr Major and Albert Reynolds, the Irish Taoiseach, the sources emphasised Mr Major's remark that he hoped for progress 'before, during and after' the meeting.

Mr Major told the Commons that he could not accept the feeling among some people 'that the dead must be endlessly avenged. That any accommodation with the opposing viewpoint would betray those who have died.' He added: 'The right memorial to the dead is, surely, to make sure no one else is killed.'

Any proposals would almost certainly include earlier ideas for a power-sharing assembly, joint executive boards on issues of common interest between North and South such as trade, tourism and security, and a replacement Anglo-Irish agreement linked to the abandonment of Articles II and III.

Downing Street declined last night to encourage speculation that this would be in the final event aimed at a referendum in the province, and one would certainly not be called without the support of the Ulster Unionists' leader James Molyneaux - which is by no means guaranteed.

Calling the new Criminal Justice Bill the 'centrepiece' of the new session, a clearly invigorated Mr Major challenged Labour to support it and added: 'I share the view of most people that the balance has been tilted for too long in favour of the criminal and away from the victim.'

John Smith, the Labour leader, scorned Mr Major's theme, asking: 'If now we have to go back to basics, what has been happening over 14 years of Conservative government?'

Coming less than a fortnight before the Budget, the Queen's Speech omitted the ritual reference to progressive reduction of tax. But further social security legislation is certain, restricting invalidity benefit, and making employers meet more of the costs of sick pay. The deregulation Bill is not expected to begin its passage until early next year; ministers have yet to agree its final scope.

Although the programme is designed to ensure Mr Major a united party, some Cabinet ministers fear the deregulation Bill - aimed at widespread removal of red tape in many departments - could be contentious.

The speech and reaction, pages 6, 7

Peace rallies, page 10

Leading article, page 17

Andrew Marr, page 19

Main Bills in The Queen's Speech

Reform of criminal justice system

Deregulation and abolition of industrial red tape

Changes in administration of police and magistrates courts

Extending Sunday shopping hours

Statutory scrutiny of Secret Service and GCHQ

Local government changes in Scotland and Wales

Paving Bill for environmental protection agencies

Privatisation of British Coal

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
football
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
weird news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?