Although the Irish government still has 3 December pencilled in for the summit, senior Whitehall sources acknowledged for the first time the possibility that the summit could even take place shortly after the European Council meeting a week later.
The difficulty about fixing a date will be taken as evidence of the delicacy of discussions between the two governments - intensified last week by the leak of a draft position paper from Dublin seeking British recognition of the goal of Irish unity. Whitehall emphasised that the summit, while important, was part of a process that would continue after the Dublin meeting.
Meanwhile, Lord Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman, last night sound a pointed warning to Mr Major. He said the Irish government would not be satisfied 'with anything that does not advance the cause of the alternative Union - that of a United Ireland'.
Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, yesterday strongly rejected 'this idea that the governments are separating in their positions'.
Mr Reynolds told journalists on Sunday that he saw little hope for inter-party talks unless they took place in an atmosphere of peace and so could include Sinn Fein.
But Sir Patrick said that Mr Reynolds had, in a television interview, 'made it very clear that there was no conflict between these two processes' - of promoting inter- party talks and seeking an end to
Unionist politicians expressed outrage last night at confirmation from the Army that many soldiers in Northern Ireland have abandoned their helmets for berets as part of a policy to 'soften' their public image. The Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said the move was 'only the tip of the iceberg' of concessions negotiated between London and Dublin. The Army said that if soldiers came under fire they would put their helmets back on.