Unionists' hard line delivers blow to hopes for Irish talks: Major warned that Commons 'understanding' may be at risk

THE ULSTER UNIONIST party, Northern Ireland's largest political grouping, yesterday dealt a blow to the Government's hopes of reviving inter-party talks by saying it would not talk to the Irish government before a devolved assembly was established.

Its leader, James Molyneaux, went so far as to hint that he might end his party's Commons 'understanding' with the Prime Minister unless John Major agreed to change the existing formula of involving Dublin in talks.

The new hard-line stance emerged with the publication of a party document, A Blueprint for Stability, which nationalists immediately denounced as a plan to re-establish majority rule. The approach is seen as being motivated partly by a desire to cover its flank from attack by the Rev Ian Paisley in the run-up to the European election in June. Mr Paisley's Democratic Unionist party, which usually performs well in European contests, has already counted itself out of future talks. The Ulster Unionists, who have not rejected the Downing Street Declaration as Mr Paisley did, clearly feel vulnerable to his allegations that they have gone soft.

Their document calls for Northern Ireland to be acknowledged as an integral part of the United Kingdom. It advocates a new devolved assembly in Belfast with executive powers. These would be exercised through departmental committees, the chairmen and membership of which would be broadly in proportion to party strengths. Sinn Fein would be excluded.

A Bill of Rights and other machinery would be established to deal with minority grievances. Once established, the assembly would work out its relations with the Republic of Ireland, though these would be hindered, the document says, if the South did not remove its constitutional claim to Northern Ireland. Given present voting strengths, the proposed assembly and its committees could be expected to have built-in Unionist majorities.

Nationalist representatives characterised the document as a bid to return to Protestant majority rule and to freeze out the republic. The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, said internal solutions had not worked in the past, adding that there could be no return to 'the bad old days of Stormont'.

Mr Molyneaux said many people had told him they did not want him to get involved in the 'circus' of inter-party talks again.

The move represents a setback for government hopes of restarting inter-party talks on the basis of involving constitutional parties and the Irish government. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, has recently spoken of his hopes for new talks, but it is difficult to see how these could be meaningful in the absence of the two major Unionist parties.

Mr Major made it clear at a meeting with senior US Congressmen in Washington yesterday that he was determined to press ahead with the talks. Officials travelling with him said he had not yet had a chance to study a full report of Mr Molyneaux's statement but that the British Government intended to carry on trying to make progress to a constitutional settlement.

Mr Major also assured the Congressmen that the offer to Sinn Fein of full participation in talks if the IRA renounced violence would remain, whatever the outcome of Sinn Fein's current deliberations.

Leading article, page 15

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
Sport
Sean Abbott
cricketSean Abbott is named Australia's young cricketer of the year
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Partnership Sales Executive - TV

competitive + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global multi-media...

Sauce Recruitment: Account Director

£26017.21 - £32521.19 per annum + OTE $90,000: Sauce Recruitment: My client is...

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea