Paisley calls Major a fool over Sinn Fein links: Leader of Democratic Unionists accused of shifting ground over reasons for not joining Ulster discussions

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The Independent Online
IAN PAISLEY, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, yesterday called John Major a 'fool' and rejected his appeal to rejoin the cross-party talks on Northern Ireland, dealing a further blow to the peace process.

After talks lasting less than an hour with Mr Major, Mr Paisley said: 'He is being made a fool of. He has allowed himself to be strung along by thugs, liars and murderers steeped in blood. He is a fool. If he goes on that way, he will be made a greater fool.'

Declaring 'no surrender to the IRA', Mr Paisley and his deputy, Peter Robinson, said they could not join the talks until the Downing Street Declaration had been suspended.

British ministers made it clear they intended to press ahead with the peace process in spite of the rejection of the Downing Street Declaration by the DUP and Sinn Fein. Both Dublin and London strongly denied there was any split over their response to Sinn Fein's insistence that the peace process was dead.

Ministers had hoped Mr Paisley would heed the appeal by Mr Major, although their last meeting had degenerated into a shouting match, with Mr Major angrily telling Mr Paisley he was talking 'rubbish'. Yesterday's meeting was almost as stormy. Mr Paisley said Mr Major had thumped his papers on the table and had lost his temper.

'I said to the Prime Minister we can expect anything because you have talked to the IRA for two hours. He got very ratty about that. He said, 'Don't bring that up'.'

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said he would still seek to persuade Mr Paisley to join the cross-party talks between the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance Party.

However, Sir Patrick did not conceal the exasperation in Downing Street at Mr Paisley's attitude, and accused the DUP leader of shifting his ground over the reason for rejecting the talks.

'Originally, we understood it was because articles two and three remained in the Irish constitution; then it was because John Hume (SDLP leader) had been talking to Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein president), that made it impossible for Mr Paisley to talk to him; now it is the Downing Street Declaration . . . '

Mr Paisley said he had won a mandate in the European elections from a massive majority of DUP supporters to reject the Downing Street Declaration.

That may be seen as a threat by hard-line Ulstermen to bring down a Stormont power-sharing body, as the Unionists did in 1974. The DUP leader said his party would not boycott elections to a new Stormont body, but would win seats to 'put the boot in'.

The DUP rejected key elements believed to be in the framework document to be produced by the two governments in the autumn, including cross-border bodies with executive powers, and demanded as a first step the republic's surrender of its constitutional claim to the North.

There was continuing speculation in political circles in Dublin, despite the lack of a clear Sinn Fein decision on Sunday, that an IRA move to call a ceasefire may come within three weeks, perhaps coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the start of the conflict. Martin McGuinness, a leading Sinn Fein activist, meanwhile joined other party leaders in identifying 'demilitarisation' as the essential next stage in the peace process.