Reynolds wary of talks without Sinn Fein: Gulf still exists between London and Dublin on strategy for Ulster. David McKittrick and Donald Macintyre report

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The Independent Online
ALBERT REYNOLDS, the Irish premier, indicated yesterday that he saw little hope for the inter-party talks favoured by John Major unless they took place in an atmosphere of peace, and included Sinn Fein.

The Taoiseach's view was a sign of the gulf which exists between Britain and Ireland on how to push for peace in Northern Ireland.

Inter-party talks, involving the two governments and the non-violent parties in Northern Ireland, form the centrepiece of Mr Major's plans. But Mr Reynolds clearly regards this approach as subordinate to that of trying to bring about a cessation of IRA violence.

And amid growing evidence that Unionists and right-wing Tories are putting pressure on the Prime Minister from the other end of the spectrum, Downing Street last night went to unusual lengths to reassure them, saying that it was 'wholly wrong' to suggest that any amnesty would be offered to IRA prisoners in the event of an end to violence.

The Prime Minister's office also said that it was 'mischievous fantasy' to suggest that the Government would ever be party to a plan to break the British link with Northern Ireland against the wishes of its people.

The pledges came as the timetable for the Anglo-Irish summit in Dublin began to slip from its originally planned date of 3 December. There are signs that officials of the two governments are still discussing the basic outline of a communique which both want to issue after the meeting. Mr Reynolds said yesterday: 'I don't think we are likely to get a lasting solution if we don't involve all the parties at the end of the day in the talks process.

'If you can have a talks process without violence breathing down their neck, without the communities being driven farther and farther apart - the talks process has a poor enough chance of success. If the talks process was ready to resume tomorrow morning, I would say proceed with it, but it's not ready.'

His scepticism about the chances for progress in inter-party talks is in sharp contrast to London's projection that such talks should be the first priority. His remarks show that the two governments have some way to go if they are to reach significant agreement by the time of the Anglo-Irish summit.

In a clear attempt to distance the peace process from the accord reached between John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, senior government sources said any solution which dealt with only one side of the problem would make 'more balanced proposals' more difficult.

Mr Major has already said in the Commons that since Britain does not recognise terrorists convicted of murder and other crimes as 'political prisoners' the question of any amnesty for them does not arise. But Whitehall went further yesterday, saying that all unsolved crimes would continue to be investigated after any renunciation of paramilitary violence.

Mr Reynolds said on the BBC's Breakfast With Frost that there was an 'excellent rapport' between him and Mr Major. But he said the two leaders were engaged on a 'process for peace' - peace that would not prejudice the outcome 'the political talks that will hopefully follow the cessation of violence'.