Ulster summit in the balance: London and Dublin haggle over province's status as doubt is cast on IRA dealings

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR and Albert Reynolds last night attempted to put the Anglo-Irish summit in Dublin back on track for Friday by resolving a dispute over the Irish claim to Ulster. The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach had their second telephone conversation in 24 hours to settle differences over a summit communique.

It centred on Dublin's offer to renounce its claim to the province in articles two and three of the Irish constitution in return for a commitment by London to a united Ireland by the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland.

'The issue is the Irish constitutional claim to the six counties, and what they want in return for that,' said one informed Westminster source. The British side are anxious to avoid upsetting Unionists further after the row over contacts with the IRA. Dublin sources said Mr Reynolds wanted progress towards substantive measures at the summit, but the Prime Minister's officials were playing down expectations.

The Government is expected to try to rebuild the trust of the Ulster Unionists before the weekend by confirming its intention to establish a Commons select committee on Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister defended the contacts with the IRA in the Commons. He said the Government had 'acted properly and done its duty' by maintaining the contacts and confirmed he would continue to use the 'confidential channel of communication'.

Facing Commons questions for the first time since disclosures of the links, Mr Major was warmly supported by Tory MPs. He said the channel had been shown to be 'extremely accurate and extremely reliable'.

Meanwhile, doubt was cast on the accuracy of the Government's published record of its dealings with the IRA by the emergence of a significant textual inconsistency.

The Government and the republican movement have produced different texts of documents which passed between them. Sinn Fein claimed the Government has produced several bogus documents and made changes in others.

The government position is that the documents placed in the library of the Commons on Monday by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, represent a full and accurate record of the exchanges. However, a document produced last night by Sinn Fein shows up an unexplained inconsistency.

The issue involved is crucial for the Government and the republican movement. Sir Patrick based his defence of his actions in dealing with the IRA on the assertion that contacts took place following an initial IRA message of surrender.

According to the Government, the IRA message declared: 'The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close.' Republican leaders deny any such message was sent.

The two sides have produced different versions of a subsequent communication from the Government. On the face of it the Government's version confirms that the IRA had indeed asked for advice, while the republican version suggests that advice was sought by the Government.

This crucial difference indicates that one version must have been changed and falsified. Elsewhere in the version supplied by the Government there exists wording which apparently supports the accuracy of the Sinn Fein version.

The disputed paragraph contains another difference. The government version reads: 'Dialogue could take place.' The republican version says: 'Progressive entry into dialogue could take place.'

Elsewhere in the material released by London is a subsequent republican document, which includes the following sentence: 'We need clarification of the phrase 'progressive entry into dialogue'.' This phrase does not appear anywhere else in the preceding correspondence, which Mr Major described yesterday as a full record of the contacts.

A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said last night: 'We are checking this out.'

Gunmen from the outlawed Ulster Freedom Fighters shot dead a 47-year-old Catholic who had just finished his shift early yesterday at the European Components factory in the village of Dundonald, on the eastern outskirts of Belfast.