Unionist revolt forces delay of rescue package

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The Independent Online

Extreme nervousness about the state of Unionist political and public opinion has caused Tony Blair and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to delay the unveiling of their rescue package for the Irish peace process.

The two prime ministers have put off, until next week, revealing the details of the package, which is aimed at prompting IRA movement on the arms issue. Although they added the finishing touches to their proposals during a meeting in Mr Blair's Sedgefield constituency yesterday, publication is not now expected until the middle of next week.

While the package is described as a balanced one, there are fears that details on policing may further inflame opinion in David Trimble's already highly unsettled Ulster Unionist Party.

With Mr Trimble presently in America, the appearance of the package would have been met with instant rejection yesterday by prominent opponents within his party's ranks. The hope is that postponement may allow the situation to become calmer.

Important sections of the party are in open revolt, with the MPs Jeffrey Donaldson and David Burnside already calling for it to leave the present negotiations.

The package, which will be launched against a background of IRA inscrutability about their intentions on weaponry, is expected to include important changes to the shape of future policing. While the two governments will argue that these are necessary for modernisation and the creation of a new start in policing, Mr Trimble's opponents will present them as concessions to republicans and effectively defeats for Unionism.

Mr Donaldson yesterday compared government movement in response to republican arguments with the appeasement of Adolf Hitler. Rejecting statements from both Mr Blair and Mr Ahern that the package was complete, he accused them of continuing to negotiate with republicans: "I think that the two prime ministers are engaged in a phoney misrepresentation of the facts. If the document is now ready why can't it be published today?"

The package is believed to feature some measures included as a result of Unionist concerns, such as a commitment to review the legislation on controversial marches and the role of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission. There could also be provision for investigations into what Unionists suspect was collusion by Irish police in a number of killings carried out by the IRA.

Mr Blair said after his meeting with Mr Ahern: "We have been able to put the finishing touches to the finalised proposal we are going to put to the parties. I ask the political parties in responding to them to consider them carefully."

Mr Ahern said all the work had been done and asked the parties to carefully look at the proposals and "go with them."

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