Unionists reject all-Ireland power-sharing: Donald Macintyre looks at Ulster views of a 30 per cent stake in a united state

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UNIONIST politicians yesterday gave short shrift to the offer by Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister, of a 30 per cent share for Northern Ireland politicians in any future all-Ireland government.

In a conciliatory speech to a Fianna Fail conference in Dublin, Mr Reynolds suggested the 30 per cent share in any single administration would involve politicians from both communities in proportion to their relative size.

But James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionists, said that Mr Reynolds' power sharing proposal left 'out of account the fact that the greater number of people of Northern Ireland are not orphans wandering about a barren landscape bidding somebody to take them in.

'They are quite happy, the greater number, Protestant and Catholic alike, to remain within the bigger unit of the United Kingdom. They bear no ill-will towards their southern neighbours - I myself have made that quite clear.'

Mr Reynolds said the Ulster Unionists and Fianna Fail were the two largest parties in Ireland and there was a responsibility on both 'to free our people from the present violent situation - and to join in developing a better future for us all in the land we love'.

He said it was now accepted by all sides - including Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing - that it would be wrong to coerce the people of Northern Ireland into a united Ireland.

But as the British government said it wanted to study Mr Reynolds' remarks before commenting, Mr Molyneaux said after examining the text that the speech 'starts off well, but deteriorates very rapidly until it comes to something which is totally unrealistic'.

The Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Ulster Unionists, was even more forthright. He claimed: 'If this is the hand of friendship, in that velvet glove is the dagger of the murderer and the assassin. Mr Reynolds is no lover of Northern Ireland. He is out to destroy Northern Ireland.'

Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, made it clear again that Dublin envisages changes to Articles II and III of the Irish constitution - which lays claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland - as part of an overall peace settlement.

He said on BBC radio: 'I think the overriding ambition is peace and we have said in the context of an overall settlement that we are prepared to make changes to our constitution.

'It is not a question of victory or defeat for either side. We are trying to find an accommodation for the nationalist people and the unionist people within Northern Ireland.

Loyalist paramilitaries were condemned yesterday in one of the strongest statements ever by a Protestant church leader. The Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Robin Eames, at an RUC service at Tandragee, Co Armagh, said they had made life cheap.

He said: 'Your actions are denying the justice of the cause which the community from which you come wishes to express. There is no difference in the sorrow and tears of Protestant or Roman Catholic families.'

Army bomb disposal experts in Belfast defused devices planted by loyalists at a Catholic taxi firm's premises and at a filling station.