Reynolds hopes for Ulster peace by Christmas: 'Ceasefire first, then paramilitaries can join talks'

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THE PROSPECT of a peace plan for Northern Ireland by Christmas was raised yesterday by Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, in a shift of emphasis in favour of the Hume-Adams initiative.

Mr Reynolds made clear in interviews that he wants to produce an outline of proposals, which could lead to a cessation of violence by the IRA, at his summit with John Major due early next month. He wants to delay detailed talks on a political settlement until the paramilitaries have agreed to end the violence.

'By the time of the next summit, we should be in a position to know how far we have got and then let people judge us,' Mr Reynolds said.

Downing Street later distanced Mr Major from the Taoiseach's attempt to quicken the pace, saying: 'We aren't setting any deadlines.'

The main elements emerging for the plan are: the Republic to end the claim to Northern Ireland in its constitution; Britain to accept Ulster can become part of a united Ireland with the consent of the majority in the North; new structures for the North would require support of all community sections; the package to be approved by simultaneous referendums in North and South.

Mr Reynolds, who sketched the broad outline, said he would be willing to put the historic claim to the North to a referendum - as part of a multilateral package. Once there was a cessation of violence, he said, Sinn Fein, led by Gerry Adams, and the loyalist paramilitaries could join inter-party talks.

John Hume, the Social Democratic and Labour Party leader, who last week told Mr Major there could be 'peace within a week' if his proposals were accepted, has told the prime ministers the IRA is prepared to cease all violence, despite its Shankill Road bomb which killed 10 people last month.

Mr Reynolds said peace must take priority before inter-party talks. 'The nationalists have to be assured that the Dublin government are not going to sell them out . . . The Unionists want to feel they will not be betrayed by London, they will not be sold out. Let's put the political fears aside. But let's get a formula for peace first because I think the talks have a far better chance in a new transformed environment where there is peace in operation rather than the present situation,' Mr Reynolds said.

Responding to heavy criticism by his supporters for being too negative over the Hume-Adams plan, Mr Reynolds saluted Mr Hume at his party's conference in Dublin on Saturday. 'John Hume has advanced principles upon which a formula for peace can be built. There are other inputs to be made into that situation. This is where the two governments come into play. John Hume said he wanted the two governments to take up the issue and run with it. The two governments have taken up the issue and the two governments are running with it.'

Mr Major is seeking bilateral meetings this week with Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, and James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionists.

He refuses to call the parties round the table until there is a hope of substantive agreement from behind-the-scenes negotiations with Michael Ancram, Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. 'We are not about a grandstand exercise to persuade the parties . . . to get round the table again only to break up at the last meeting in acrimony. That would be useless and an outrage to the people of Ireland,' said a British official

A ministerial source said: 'All the elements for the package - the assembly, proportional representation, the role of the two governments - were agreed but never delivered because the talks broke down. The building blocks are in place. This is a window of opportunity which we must take.'

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