The government is intensifying its efforts to draw up a document outlining the stages aimed at securing political talks between the parties in time for a summit between John Major and John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, by the middle of next week.
The struggle to maintain momentum towards political progress with or without Sinn Fein continued yesterday as Mr Major met David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, and Mr Bruton intensified pressure for a date to be set for all-party talks on Northern Ireland.
The Irish government regards the setting of a date as crucial if it is to have any leverage on Sinn Fein in securing a restoration of the ceasefire. Mr Bruton said yesterday Sinn Fein would only be permitted to join in negotiations once their IRA allies "stop the killing".
The blueprint currently under consideration is believed to include a fusion of the "proximity" talks sought by Dublin, which could agree the form of elections to a body from which the participants in full talks would be selected, and possibly a simultaneous referendum in Northern Ireland and the Republic. The referendum proposal, sought by John Hume, the SDLP leader, would be the first cross-border plebiscite on the island since 1918 and could, according to some government sources, demonstrate the limited support for Sinn Fein and the IRA bombing campaign.
The delicate blueprint discussions might envisage Sinn Fein taking part in the elections - provided they renounced violence. But they would not be able to take part in the talks without renouncing violence or without a restoration of the IRA ceasefire.
Mr Trimble suggested yesterday that Sinn Fein and the other parties would be required to sign up to the six principles in the Mitchell report, including renouncing violence before being allowed to enter all-party negotiations after elections to a new body in Northern Ireland.
Mr Trimble said: "We agreed there would have to be a further ceasefire and this time a genuine ceasefire with a real commitment to peaceful means ... Those parties who didn't commit themselves to this would have excluded themselves."
Mr Major in the Commons condemned the three IRA bomb incidents as the action of "men callously unconcerned about innocent death or injury" to people unconnected with the disputes in Ulster.
Asked what would constitute a "genuine" ceasefire, Mr Trimble said: "A total absence of violence, a complete commitment to exclusively peaceful means ... decommissioning - that is inescapable."
Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, said yesterday that if the elections excluded from Sinn Fein, the problem would continue. "... It has been made very obvious that there will not be an elective process unless it has the support of the nationalists as well as the unionists."Reuse content