Ministers left sceptical over IRA ceasefire: Report says Britain should call first meeting

BRITISH ministers were last night sceptical about the prospects of making progress towards a ceasefire by the IRA, after leaks of the Hume- Adams talks in Ireland.

John Major could come under pressure to recovene round-table talks for the main Ulster parties as part of the process when he meets Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, at an EC summit in Brussels on 29 October.

A report of the initiative by John Hume, the leader of the SDLP, and Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, said Britain would be expected to call the meeting as a first step towards a possible ceasefire.

However, British sources said there was no point in calling the parties together until proposals for devovling powers to Ulster had neared agreement, and there was no prospect of that at the moment.

Ulster Unionist leaders were highly suspicious about the Hume- Adams talks, and hostile to any attempt to a convene a meeting without their agreement. The report in the Irish Times said the Hume-Adams peace plan asked Mr Reynolds to persuade the British government to call the meeting, and the unionists would not have a veto.

Sinn Fein, with the full backing of the IRA army council would call for a full cessation of violence if the British Government confirmed it would be bound by the conference and, in effect, that the Irish people had a right to national self-determination. Sinn Fein would not expect to take part in the conference until violence had ended.

However, Ulster Unionist MPs said they had made it clear the cessation of violence would have to last for a considerable time before they would agree to talk with Sinn Fein. They will reinforce that message tomorrow in a full-day Commons debate on Northern Ireland.

Officials today will be preparing the ground for an Anglo-Irish conference next Thursday in Belfast, but British ministers officially have not been given details of the Hume- Adams plan. Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will use the debate to sum up progress on reconvening the inter-party talks, which Michael Ancram, the Under-Secretary of State, has been attempting to revive in bilateral discussions with the main parties.

James Molyneaux's Official Ulster Unionists, who have pledged their nine votes to support Mr Major's Commons majority, want a less ambitious programme leading to more devolved powers, including a Commons select committee on Northern Ireland. Nationalists believe the Ulster Unionists are using the Tories' small majority to play for time, in the hope of achieving greater integration.