Ulster sell-out accusation by Paisley rouses Major to fury: Downing Street talks end in slanging match as Prime Minister squares up to Unionists

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JOHN MAJOR'S patience snapped yesterday when he angrily told Ian Paisley he was talking 'total rubbish' over the Anglo-Irish peace initiative.

The Prime Minister let his feelings show after being accused of appeasement of the IRA at a 35-minute meeting in Downing Street with the Democratic Unionist Party leader and two DUP MPs.

Mr Major's office said he had been very patient listening to Mr Paisley but had 'had enough of listening to his misrepresentations of the Downing Street Declaration'.

After emerging from the talks, Mr Paisley said he had never seen Mr Major so angry and accused him of 'throwing his papers around' his desk as the two men shouted at each other.

Mr Paisley said: 'I had to raise my voice in order that the Prime Minister could hear, because he was shouting loudly. I have a better voice than him.'

The bitter row is likely to be used by Ulster Unionist critics of the Downing Street declaration as evidence that Mr Major's nerve is cracking. However, Downing Street said Mr Major was 'very calm, very firm and very tough'. But the acrimony of the meeting underlined the pessimism now felt at Westminster over the prospects for securing peace in Northern Ireland.

Mr Paisley said he would be back for talks with Mr Major when he had a mandate against the Declaration from the European elections in June.

In the angry exchanges, Peter Robinson, who attended the meeting with his fellow DUP MP William McCrea, told Mr Major he had given way to violence. Mr Major asked him how he could justify that allegation when the Government had committed nearly 20,000 troops to Ulster.

Mr Major said there was an 'absolute safeguard' in the Declaration's stipulation of a united Ireland only by the consent of the majority in Ulster. Mr Robinson said that was no safeguard.

Michael Ancram, Minister of State for Northern Ireland, who also attended the meeting, said later Mr Paisley claimed the Prime Minister had offered Sinn Fein an invitation to the conference table through the Declaration and had ended constitutional guarantees to Ulster. 'The Prime Minister made it clear that was total rubbish.'

The exchanges came as Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, tried to defuse anxiety among Tory MPs and Ulster Unionists over remarks reported at the weekend that the Dublin government was prepared to shift position and accept a temporary ceasefire by the IRA.

Mr Spring said such a ceasefire would be welcome but only as a stepping stone to a permanent end to violence, which remained the precondition for Sinn Fein entering negotiations.

After an hour-long meeting in Dublin with Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, Mr Spring stressed that the basic position of both governments had not changed. 'We will not enter into negotiations with Sinn Fein or the IRA unless there is a very clear, unequivocal renunciation of violence.'

(Photograph omitted)