Wary Unionists could force general election

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The Independent Online
THE Ulster Unionists yesterday threatened to precipitate a general election if the Government conceded too much to Dublin in an agreement this month, and they predicted the return of violence to the province.

The comments from two senior MPs appeared to raise the stakes in the peace process ahead of final agreement between London and Dublin on a "framework document''.

John Taylor, Ulster Unionist MP for Strangford and an honorary secretary of the party, said Unionists would withdraw support from John Major's government if he gave too much power to joint North/South bodies to be proposed in the document.

The precise status and power of these bodies, expected to cover areas such as environment, tourism and transport, is one of the outstanding issues before the two governments can agree the framework document.

And as the last daylight patrol by the Army in Belfast took place, Ken Maginnis, security spokesman, said elements of the IRA in east Tyrone, south Armagh and Donegal who were uneasy with the ceasefire wanted to resume violence. He added: "All the signs coming from Sinn Fein and the IRA indicate that incidents of sporadic violence are likely to increase within the next few weeks.

"I warned before there would be a resumption of violence after a limited ceasefire."

British sources believe that the leader of the party, James Molyneaux, is still backing Mr Major's peace process. But Mr Taylor said: "In 1973 the Unionists rejected a Tory proposal to create an All-Ireland Council with executive powers."

He said they remained "absolutely opposed to any suggestion in the so-called framework document of all-Ireland bodies with executive powers which could in practice be a de facto if not de jure united Ireland . . .

"Such a proposal would ensure that every Unionist worth his salt would unite to oppose the Government. Accordingly we should never be unprepared for a general election in 1995 if these circumstances should arise.''

Already the scope of the joint bodies has been scaled back from initial suggestions by Dublin that they should negotiate with the European Union.

But Mr Taylor's comments will ring alarm bells within a government increasingly vulnerable through the removal of the whip from Tory Euro-rebels. The Unionists have voted regularly with the Tories since July 1993, although they withdrew support over VAT on fuel - helping to defeat the Government.

Last week the new Irish government said it expected the framework document to be signed by the end of the month. Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the Irish foreign minister, Dick Spring, are due to meet this week. Among other issues still to be resolved are potential changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution which lay claim to the North.

Sinn Fein representatives are due to have more exploratory talks with senior civil servants at Stormont on Monday.