Unionists warn of Ulster `cul-de-sac'

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The Independent Online
A Cabinet committee chaired by the Prime Minister last night agreed to press ahead with the controversial framework document on the future of Northern Ireland, in spite of a warning by Ulster Unionist MPs they were "heading down a cul-de-sac".

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will today brief the Cabinet on the progress over the final stumbling blocks on the document made in talks with Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister.

Sir Patrick and Mr Spring will meet again at the weekend to agree the final draft ahead of a summit between John Major and John Bruton, the Taoiseach.

The week after next is now seen as the most realistic point for the launch of the document. It now appears inevitable, however, that the Ulster Unionist Party will, in common with the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, refuse to negotiate on the basis of the document. This means that for some time at least the peace process will be forced to proceed without the direct participation of the political representatives of most of Ulster's Protestant majority.

David Trimble, one of the Ulster Unionists who signed a protest letter to the Prime Minister on Tuesday, said: "I am extremely pessimistic. I think there is a very serious danger that the Government has made a massive misjudgement, despite the numerous warnings and the advice that they have been given...

"We don't see any point in discussing what we would regard as a purely nationalist agenda. If that is what the framework document is, then I'm afraid it, like so many other foolish documents of the past, will end up consigned to the dustbin...

"It is our duty to renew the warnings in the hope the Government will reverse out of the cul-de-sac it has got itself into."

London and Dublin are determined to appeal to the people of Ulster - over the heads of the politicians if necessary - to win support for the proposals. They are adamant that the document will not halt the peace process and plan to issue a shortened version to secure popular backing.