The complex arrangements for the elections on 30 May, together with the establishment of a new forum, were welcomed by David Trimble's Ulster Unionists and the Rev Ian Paisley's DUP. But they drew a furious response from Sinn Fein and John Hume's SDLP, despite a plea from Mr Major to Sinn Fein "not to walk away from the best chance of peace in a generation" .
The British and Irish Governments had hoped the promise of all-party negotiations on 10 June would persuade the IRA army council to restore the ceasefire.
Mr Major said a hybrid system for electing a 110-seat forum to appoint the negotiating teams had been chosen because the parties had failed to agree on a single system.
Five seats in each of the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland will be allocated from party constituency lists of candidates, in proportion to each party's share of the vote. A further 20 seats will be allocated from the aggregate of the votes across Ulster, two each to the 10 most successful parties.
The nationalist position had been that no election was needed and if one was to be held it should simply produce negotiating teams, not a forum, which would inevitably have a Unionist majority. The SDLP also suggested a referendum for peace on both sides of the border. Mr Major's announcement came down against these points.
Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, described the proposals as anathema. "This makes it all the more difficult to convince the IRA that there is a real case for a second cessation. The British proposals represent a blatantly Unionist agenda," he said.
John Hume, the SDLP leader, privately told colleagues the plan would make it more difficult to get the IRA to end the violence. The SDLP deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, condemned "a Monster Raving Loony election proposal".
But Tony Blair, the Labour leader, made it clear Labour would support the legislation for the elections, which is to be rushed through Parliament after the Easter recess.Reuse content