Final drafting delays Ulster summit

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The Irish and British governments were last night forced to delay publication of the framework document on the future of Northern Ireland, but ministers insisted that the peace process was still on track.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, had hoped for a summit meeting early next month with the two prime ministers to publish the document. But after six hours of talks at Lancaster House in London, Sir Patrick said officials had been asked to begin redrafting part of the document, comprising 23 pages and 56 paragraphs, to overcome "areas of complexity where more work is required''.

In spite of their failure to approve the final wording of the document, covering an elected assembly in Ulster, cross-border bodies, and the Republic's constitutional claim to the North, the mood of the ministers was upbeat. Mr Spring said: "We are confident we can overcome the remaining differences."

After a further meeting between Sir Patrick and Mr Spring, the two governments still hope the document will be unveiled at a summit, probably in Belfast, later next month.

Mr Spring sidestepped a question about the campaign to free Private Lee Clegg, the Paratrooper jailed for life for killing a joy rider, although it is expected to lead to pressure by Sinn Fein for an amnesty for IRA prisoners. John Major yesterday said Sir Patrick had started the process which could lead to Clegg's release on licence.

The talks were also made more difficult by heightened Ulster Unionist speculation about the proposed cross-border bodies. Ministers were embarrassed by reports that the Unionists would be given, in effect, a veto over the bodies' executive powers. MartinMaginnis, the Sinn Fein leader, who was also in London, said that would destroy hope of any lasting peace.

Whitehall sources dismissed the reports. It is understood the proposed elected assembly for Northern Ireland and the Irish Parliament will appoint members to a cross-border body. They will be expected to act on behalf of their respective assemblies, on such issues as tourism, energy, and transport.

The document will include a European dimension at the insistence of Dublin but will not go as far as the Irish had hoped in counting the whole of Ireland together for EU policy, including grants.

Sinn Fein is still arguing with officials about decommissioning IRA weapons, but the delay will not put at risk the ceasefire.