and DAVID McKITTRICK
The former United States senator George Mitchell will arrive in London today amid speculation that he will play a key role in negotiating a restoration of the IRA ceasefire.
Mr Mitchell will meet the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, and is expected to meet John Major tomorrow. Downing Street played down reports that he would be acting as a "go-between", but Dublin sources confirmed that he could have an important role to play.
The former senator, who is in Britain as chairman of the international crisis group on Bosnia, could be used to apply the influence of the US President, Bill Clinton, with the Irish nationalist community for the acceptance of a peace package produced by London and Dublin.
The package is likely to be unveiled next Wednesday at a summit between Mr Major and Mr Bruton. It is expected to include ground-breaking talks involving the main parties, elections to create negotiating teams, a firm date for all-party negotiations and a referendum on both sides of the border.
The Ulster Unionist party yesterday produced a detailed plan for a new elected body which it envisages as the centrepiece of a negotiating process among Northern Ireland political parties.
Under its plan Sinn Fein would only be involved if the IRA declared a renewed ceasefire, and if the republicans gave a series of assurances that they would in future employ only democratic methods. A new elected body would be made up of 90 people elected by the proportional representation system which has been in use in Northern Ireland since the Seventies. The party says it could be operational by May or June.
The document received a cold reception both from the Social Democratic and Labour party and from Sinn Fein. The SDLP as a party last week declared itself "unanimously and vehemently" opposed to the proposals for an election while Sinn Fein yesterday repeated its "implacable opposition".
Tony Blair was last night accused by a former Labour frontbench spokesman of supporting John Major in a series of errors of judgement on Northern Ireland which had contributed to the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire.
The outspoken criticism of the Labour leader and the Prime Minister by Kevin McNamara broke the bipartisan unity, maintained in spite of the IRA bombings which have shattered the peace process.
Mr McNamara told the Oxford University Labour Club that Mr Major's successive errors of judgement explained, but did not excuse, the scenes of devastation in London.
"Each of Mr Major's errors of judgement has been uncritically supported by Mr Blair," said Mr McNamara, who was removed from the Northern Ireland portfolio by Mr Blair when Labour's policy towards a united Ireland was softened.
"I'm not sure [Mr Major] did know what he was doing. That did not stop Mr Blair from following him into the big hole which he had dug for himself."Reuse content