Unionists `will stay in peace talks'

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Ministers believe the Ulster Unionists can still be kept in the peace talks despite repeated warnings that they will pull out unless the Anglo- Irish framework document is amended.

James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionists, will this week publish his party's own blueprint for Northern Ireland, including a power-sharing assembly. John Major signalled in a letter to the Ulster Unionists that the Government is prepared to discuss it.

David Trimble, one of the most outspoken Ulster Unionist critics of the proposals being drawn up by the two governments, yesterday said the Ulster Unionist MPs would talk to the Government about their own document.

The Dublin Government is also hopeful that the Unionists will not break off the talks. "Molyneaux has helped to stop them from saying `no'. They can go on talking, with whatever fig leaf they want, but so long as they go on talking, they are still in the process," a source said.

The two governments are expected to publish their document this week, after it is approved at a special meeting of the Cabinet. But there is a possibility that Mr Major will delay until next week, after the annual conference next weekend of Sinn Fein in Dublin.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, reached agreement at the weekend on the final outstanding difficulties, and the document is likely to be published at a summit between Mr Major and John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister. Copies are to be issued to the public in an attempt to win support from the two communities.

Sir Patrick has assured the Unionists that the document is open to consultation. His assurances were so strong that one leading Ulster Unionist MP said it had downgraded the status of the document. While that was denied by ministers, it has helped to keep Ulster Unionist MPs in the talks.

Mr Trimble said yesterday on BBC's On the Record that there was an inconsistency in the Government's assurance it was a consultation document while ministers said it was a balanced package, which suggested it was "take it or leave it . . ."

He said if the document had been unchanged from the outline given to him by Mr Major last Tuesday, it would be a cage "we won't go into". But he added: "We will talk to the Government to try and persuade them that they are doing the wrong thing."