Spring attempts to revive Ulster talks

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ULSTER UNIONIST leaders will be invited to bilateral talks by Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, in an attempt to revive the stalled inter-party negotiations aimed at bringing lasting peace to Northern Ireland.

In a move to put pressure on the Ulster Unionists, Mr Spring said he would be inviting all party leaders, including Ian Paisley and James Molyneaux, to talks without preconditions about location.

He was speaking after the first meeting of the Anglo-Irish conference in London since the Irish elections. The talks were described as 'very successful and congenial' by Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and marked by 'openness, frankness and realism'.

Mr Spring, the Irish deputy prime minister, came close to meeting a precondition by Mr Paisley, leader of the Democratic Ulster Unionist Party, for a commitment to drop articles two and three of the Irish constitution laying claim to Northern Ireland.

Mr Spring said: 'I believe constitutional change will be necessary.' But he added later that he did not wish to get 'bogged down' on the terminology.

Mr Spring, leader of the Labour Party, which formed a coalition with the Fianna Fail government of Albert Reynolds, made it clear from the outset that constitutional change would be on the table, but his remark that it 'will be necessary' may be enough to persuade Mr Paisley to take up his offer.

In the past, the party leaders have been anxious to avoid being blamed for blocking progress on the talks about devolving power to the democratic parties in Ulster. 'These talks hold the key to a better future for Northern Ireland,' Sir Patrick said.