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Bishops warn Major over IRA

Five Church of Ireland bishops last night warned John Major at a meeting in Downing Street that their communities feared the peace process was a one-way journey to a united Ireland, writes Colin Brown. The bishops, led by Robin Eames, the Primate of Ireland, told the Prime Minister that law-abiding moderate Unionists in Ulster were "bewildered" at the way Sinn Fein and IRA were emerging as "winners".Their note of caution came as the Government laid the ground for the first meeting between ministers and Sinn Fein early next week for exploratory talks leading to inter-party negotiations about the future of Northern Ireland.

Officials at the Northern Ireland Office will write to Sinn Fein leaders today to seek their clear commitment to discuss decommissioning of weapons before allowing Michael Ancram, the Northern Ireland minister, to take part in the exploratory talks.

Sinn Fein, in an exchange of letters about the agenda for the talks, insisted on discussing "demilitarisation" in Ulster. The Prime Minister's office said it was unacceptable because it would put the RUC and the Army on the same moral footing as the terrorists. Despite reports that this represented a block to progress, the talks will go ahead next week.