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Major soothes fears of Unionist exodus fears of Ulster exodus

A GUARANTEE to the Unionists was given last night by Downing Street in an attempt to damp down fears that talks with the Irish Prime Minister could lead to an exodus from Ulster.

As officials worked on a draft communique for the talks, the Prime Minister's office offered its strongest assurance so far that it would include firm guarantees that there would be no break with the union without the consent of the majority in Ulster.

'We will put in very strong language about the consent principle,' one source said. That assurance was privately welcomed by James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, who has been kept informed about the hard bargaining between Dublin and London for the meeting between John Major and Albert Reynolds at the European summit at the weekend in Brussels.

It followed a warning on BBC Radio yesterday by John Taylor, a leading member of Mr Molyneaux's party, that Ulster Unionists might flee to Scotland if there was a sell- out on the union by Mr Major. Mr Taylor told his Strangford constituency on Monday the Unionists would not accept the concept of the 'value' of a united Ireland, which Dublin had been seeking to include in the communique in return for the assurances to the unionists.

He said: 'We do not accept the legitimacy of a united Ireland. It has no value for us. Far from it, a united Ireland would devalue everyone of us in a very short time.

'And just as the Protestants of the Republic had to get out - bar those who were large landowners or a few well-established businessmen - so would several hundred thousand Ulster Protestants have to get out of here within a decade of a united Ireland.' Mr Taylor's constituency party gave him permission to vote against the Government on a confidence motion, even if that meant an election.