Unionists' No 10 invitation

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR is considering inviting all Ulster Unionist members of the Northern Ireland assembly to Downing Street this week in a last ditch bid to persuade them to accept the blueprint for the future of the province drawn up last week, write Rachel Sylvester and David McKittrick.

As the security forces braced themselves for trouble at today's march of Orangemen in Drumcree, the Unionists made clear that the deal which would allow the province's power-sharing executive to be set up this month was not acceptable.

Party officers agreed at a meeting yesterday to try to renegotiate aspects of the plan, drawn up after six days of intensive talks. Senior Unionist sources said that although they wanted the proposal to work, they were still unhappy about the provisions for ensuring the IRA hand over its weapons and would be demanding changes to the blueprint.

The move is a blow to the Prime Minister's hopes of keeping the fragile peace process alive, even though the "absolute" deadline originally set for last Wednesday has passed. Downing Street sources said one option was to invite all 27 Unionist assembly members to London to try to force through the deal.

The proposal is that the executive will be set up on 15 July and legislative power transferred from London to Belfast three days later. There would also be an agreement that decommissioning would follow "within days" and would be overseen by General John de Chastelain, chairman of the independent commission on disarmament. If either side reneged, then the institutions would be suspended.

The Unionists intend to demand that the wording of the document is toughened up to make clear that Sinn Fein has a "complete and unequivocal commitment" to decommissioning. They also believe that Sinn Fein should be thrown out of the government if the IRA does not comply.