Major to unveil Ulster blueprint

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The Independent Online
John Major will fly to Belfast to publish the joint Anglo-Irish document on Northern Ireland's political future tomorrow and launch a concerted effort to prevent it foundering on the hostility of Unionist opponents.

The Government is preparing to make the proposals in the document, which the Cabinet is expected to approve at a special meeting today, available to as many of Northern Ireland's 600,000 households as want it.

Mr Major will urge the people of Northern Ireland to accept the proposals as a basis for further discussion when he joins John Bruton, his Irishcounterpart, to publish them formally in Belfast.

After the two prime ministers have together launched the 26-page framework document, Mr Bruton will return to Dublin. Mr Major will unveil a second document, outlining plans for a new Northern Ireland assembly, before flying back to London to make a formal statement in the House of Commons.

As the Government seeks to maximise interest among the people of Northern Ireland, summaries of the document will be available in post offices throughout the province and the full document will be available through a well-publicised free phone number.

As Mr Major all but cleared his diary for the build-up to publication of the two documents tomorrow, the leaders of the three main Northern Ireland constitutional parties held an unusual joint meeting in the Commons. They hoped to reconcile some of the deep divisions that remain on the proposals in the documents - especially the severe Unionist apprehension over the scope and purpose of cross-border co-operation.

Mr Major faces what could be a turbulent meeting with Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, this afternoon. Last night's inter-party meeting involving John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, James Moly-neaux, leader of the Ulster Unionists, and Mr Paisley reinforced government hopes that the Ulster Unionists would not boycott all talks.

Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, said his party's ard-fheis (annual conference) in Dublin this weekend would not give a definitive response to the document. He added: "It will be studied and discussed in the normal way by the Sinn Fein leadership, who will respond to it in due course."

Meanwhile, it was understood that at last week's meeting of the Northern Ireland Cabinet Committee, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and Lord Cranborne, the strongly Unionist-minded Leader of the Lords, expressed some anxiety that the Government should not go too far in acting as "persuaders" for the detailed and interlocking proposals in the document.

According to government sources, Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, successfully reassured colleagues that while the Government would tomorrow "commend" the proposals as a "basis for discussion", it would repeat that they were not intended as a fixed blueprint and that it was up to the parties to alter, amend or rework them by joint agreement.

Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, said that his party would have nothing to do with a document which it believed would open the way to a united Ireland.

The larger Ulster Unionist Party said it would be publishing in Belfast and London today its own, entirely separate, proposals with the low-key title A practical approach to problem-solving in Northern Ireland.

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