AN ANGLO-IRISH summit planned for next week is expected to be called off today unless John Major and Albert Reynolds, the Irish Taoiseach, make an unexpected breakthrough in clearing obstacles in the way of a joint constitutional agreement on Northern Ireland.
But as the Government moved to dampen expectations of a full-scale summit, next week Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told the Commons that a 'lot of progress had been made' and there were 'sensible grounds' for believing that talks between the two governments would succeed.
Both Mr Reynolds and Mr Major are expected to emphasise stress their commitment to drawing up a framework document seeking to define a new 'constitutional balance' covering both a new democratic assembly for Northern Ireland and the relationship between the North and the South.
Sir Patrick said: 'Our objective is to reach a shared package that would help the democratically elected and constitutional parties in Ulster with the two governments to reach an overall settlement.' But senior government sources insisted said last night that artificial timetables and deadlines would not assist the process. of trying to draw up a framework document.
The British Government has not altogether given up hope of enough progress having been being made to justify a summit next week. But There remain, however, formidable obstacles in the discussions, for example such as over how far the Irish are prepared to modify Articles Two and Three of the Irish constitution laying claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland and what they would seek in return. for doing so.
Dublin has been pressing for a parallel change to the British 1920 Government of Ireland Act which gives Westminster the final say in Northern Ireland affairs, which would to make it explicit that this would continue only so long as the majority of people in Northern Ireland wanted it.
Sir Patrick said yesterday he saw no reason for such an amendment and that subsequent legislation on Northern Ireland had underpinned the principle of consent. However, he said he would always be prepared to look at detailed proposals for change.
Growing Ulster Unionist concern over the scope of the changes under discussion including Irish proposals for joint boards with 'executive powers', for example on trade, tourism and inward investment was underlined in the Commons yesterday by James Molyneaux, the party's leader.
Mr Molyneaux, who has been pressing for talks to be limited to internal democratic arrangements for within Northern Ireland, asked: 'Could we not settle for someting a little more modest that would enable the people of Ulster to live together and work together as they want to do?'
Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 18Reuse content