Major's peace summit plea faces rebuff from Dublin

Click to follow

Chief Political Correspondent

John Major is seeking a summit with John Bruton on Friday to agree a joint plan for breaking the impasse in the Northern Ireland peace process.

But Dublin last night signalled it may not be ready to hold the summit, as fresh difficulties emerged over disarming the IRA. Mr Bruton is expected to telephone Mr Major today in an attempt to resolve their differences.

The move came as the Government mounted a fresh attempt to encourage Sinn Fein to enter the peace process talks by promising a fundamental review of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Coming days after the early release of over 80 IRA and loyalist paramilitaries, it was seen as another confidence-building measure to get Sinn Fein to compromise over the issue of decommissioning IRA weapons.

The Irish government was unhappy with the letter sent to Mr Bruton by Mr Major setting out plans for a twin-track strategy involving an international commission to oversee decommissioning and preparatory talks leading to possible all-party talks by next February.

Mr Bruton accepts the broad outline, but wants a compromise over the commission's terms of reference.

Mr Major is sticking to the requirement set out by Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in Washington for progress to be made on decommissioning before Sinn Fein can enter all-party talks. But Mr Bruton is supporting the nationalists in asking for that precondition - known as "Washington Three" - to be considered by the international commission.

Last night, Downing Street made it clear the Irish request was unacceptable. It could delay hopes of an early summit.

The British are keen for an early summit, but the Irish - having aborted a summit in September - first want to reach agreement behind the scenes on the decommissioning issue.

The prospects for agreement may have been enhanced by the news of the RUC review. A White Paper on the relationships between the Secretary of State, police authority and the chief constable will also be published before Christmas.

Sinn Fein has been demanding radical reforms to the RUC, including the change of its name to drop "Royal" from its title. Officials at the Northern Ireland Office are hoping to have the policing review completed by next summer. The security minister Sir John Wheeler said the aim was to strengthen the police service as the demands changed to a peacetime scenario. "No area will be excluded," he said.

In a separate move, the Government said it was satisfied with answers given by the Libyans over their arms shipments and funding for the IRA.

Tripoli sent millions of pounds to support the terrorist campaign in Ulster. Some of the arms shipments were seized, but a great deal got through.

Britain has sent Libya five sets of questions over its links with the IRA in a bid to ensure that the connection is severed. The Foreign Office said gaps remained in the information, "but when the Libyan disclosures are considered in their entirety, we are satisfied they have largely met our expectations".