Mayhew tries to lift Ulster talks hopes

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(First Edition)

SIR PATRICK MAYHEW, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, yesterday tried to paper over the rift between London and Dublin over Irish proposals for joint administration of Ulster as he suggested inter-party talks could yet proceed.

Prospects for the deadlocked talks staying on the road took a knock on Thursday after Sir Patrick rejected proposals by Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, for going ahead in the autumn without Northern Ireland politicians and discussing a British-Irish administration with EC involvement.

The row caused when Mr Spring revealed his suggestions in a newspaper interview came on top of the Ulster Unionists' refusal to participate further.

Sir Patrick said he hoped to persuade the province's political leaders to rejoin talks in the autumn. 'I believe there is a reasonable prospect that the talks will proceed, maybe not in the same form as before, but quietly and steadily, and that exploratory discussions will flourish,' he said.

The prospect still looks remote, however. David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist MP for Upper Bann, and Mr Hume clashed repeatedly in a BBC radio interview yesterday as they each accused each other of persisting with the impasse.

Mr Hume said earlier: 'I think substantial progress has been made by us to date and hope we will reach the objective, which is a total cessation of violence in our society.'

Defending Mr Spring's initiative, he said: 'What Dick Spring said was utterly common sense. He wants the talks to resume and the parties back at the table, but he is also saying: 'If some parties do not come to the table, governments have to govern. You don't allow individual parties to dictate to the rest of us'.'

There were conflicting signals from the Republic. The Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, backed Mr Spring, but also told the Dail: 'Our aim remains a broader agreement which would involve the participation of the Northern constitutional parties as well as the two governments in new institutions.'

John Bruton, Fine Gael leader, said there was a 'suppressed conflict' between the two.