Unionists claim a new link with Major

THE Prime Minister and the Ulster Unionist leader, James Molyneaux, are expected to hold regular, informal meetings after the minority party supported the Government in last week's crucial Commons Maastricht debate.

John Major won the Unionists' support at a meeting with Mr Molyneaux last Thursday. The new arrangement was consolidated by telephone just before the critical vote.

The discussion between the two party leaders took place despite an assurance from 10 Downing Street last weekend that a meeting between Mr Major and and Mr Molyneaux was not scheduled or listed.

Ken Maginnis, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, told BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme that the next 'weeks and months' would see the emergence of a better form of government for the province 'which repudiates the kind of activities' of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Irish Government and the Labour Party.

He added: 'We would summarise the arrangement that was arrived at between . . . Jim Molyneaux and the Prime Minister as providing an opportunity for better and more effective government for the people of Northern Ireland within the UK.'

In a comment that appeared to presage the establishment of a select committee for Northern Ireland - one of the Unionists' longstanding demands - Mr Maginnis said: 'I believe that you will see in the coming weeks and months a better form of government for Northern Ireland, something that this country is crying out for and something which repudiates the activities of John Hume (the SDLP leader), Dick Spring (the Irish Foreign Minister) and Kevin McNamara (Labour spokesman on Northern Ireland).'

The Unionists may also achieve a change in the way legislation affecting Northern Ireland is conducted. At present, laws are made through Orders in Council, which MPs are unable to amend, and Unionists MPs are pressing for adoption of the procedure used in the rest of the United Kingdom. More powers for local government could also be on the agenda.

Both Conservative and Unionist sources have stressed the informality of the new relationship between the two parties.

Government business managers do not believe that they can count on the automatic support of the nine Ulster Unionist MPs in every division, with the party judging issues on merit. Ministers say contact between the party leaders will be private and will usually take place at the Commons. But Unionists believe that they have won a seat at Westminster's top table and are now guaranteed a favourable hearing in Whitehall.

The new arrangement seems certain to provoke tension between London and Dublin although ministers have reassured their Irish counterparts that no deal has been struck. Nor is an early resumption to the inter-party talks in Northern Ireland now expected.

Stressing the incremental nature of the new relationship, Mr Maginnis said yesterday: 'We are not going to see the Ulster Unionist Party coming out with a little package all wrapped up in blue ribbon, waving it around saying here is the short-term advantage we got for being lobby fodder.'

But he was adamant that the Unionists had achieved gains.

However, in an acrimonious confrontation with Mr Maginnis, Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionists, said he was convinced the Ulster Unionists had emerged empty-handed from the bargaining.

For their troubles, though, the Ulster Unionists were now committed to supporting the Government throughout the life of this Parliament, said Mr Robinson, who, like his colleagues, voted with the Oppositiion.

'They have tied themselves to the apron strings of the man who goes down to Dublin and has meetings on the basis of the Anglo-Irish Agreement', he said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Primary Teachers needed for supply in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: We are looking to rec...

Primary Supply teaching jobs in Stowmarket

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: The Job An inner city Birmingham sc...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments