Dublin talks raise hopes of progress

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Indy Politics
The British and Irish governments will seek to resolve outstanding constitutional difficulties in what could prove a decisive meeting today on a new framework document on the future of Northern Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, meet in Belfast as John Major makes a fresh effort to reassure Unionists over the impact of proposals on cross-border bodies in the document.

While there are hopes in London and Dublin that today's meeting between the two ministers could be the last before John Major and John Bruton, the Irish prime minister, formalise agreement at a summit, that will depend on removing significant sticking points, including how far Dublin is prepared to amend the claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland contained in Article 2 of the Irish constitution.

Dublin has also been pressing for a reciprocal change to the British 1920 Government of Ireland Act to embody the concept that Northern Ireland will remain in the UK only as long as the majority of the population wants it do so.

The difficulties have not been eased by the change of government in Dublin and there has been concern in Whitehall that the Fine Gael government in Dublin feels under pressure from Fianna Fail, now in opposition, to avoid making too many concessions to London.

John Major is expected to meet a three-man delegation from the Ulster Unionist Party at Downing Street tomorrow.

The Democratic Unionist Party leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, is due to meet Mr Major next week, their first face-to-face confrontation since the Prime Minister threw Mr Paisley out of No 10 in a row last year.