and DAVID McKITTRICK
The Government was embroiled in a serious row with Ulster's unionist parties last night over a leaked document suggesting that Britain was about to back down over a pledge to put IRA decommissioning at the top of the agenda for all-party talks in the Anglo-Irish peace process.
David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, denounced as "silly" the consultation paper issued last night to Ulster's main parties.
Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said he was "astonished" by the contents of the document.
Mr Trimble warned that unless the wording for the start of the all-party talks on 10 June was changed, there would be difficulties between the unionists and Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary.
The Independent last night learned that Sir Patrick agreed the wording of the document in talks yesterday with Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister. Sir Patrick was planning to make a statement on Tuesday to the Commons but the leak may change his plans.
The document says that both the British and Irish governments commit themselves to a broad agenda for the talks, and it makes it clear that decommissioning will not be taken as the first item on the agenda, to the exclusion of all other issues.
Mr Trimble said on BBC-TV's Newsnight, said: "This document has not been discussed with us. It has been produced out of the blue. I am very concerned about that . . . It is not acceptable."
Dublin sources last night insisted that the document maintained the spirit of the Mitchell report, and the communique issued by John Major and John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, at the Anglo-Irish summit last month. "We cannot have a situation where it becomes the first item on the agenda to the exclusion of all other items," said a source.
The Ulster Unionists were also angry over a proposal that once the all- party talks are under way, a co-ordinating committee will oversee the proposals to be put to the negotiating teams.
The leaking of the document upset the finely-tuned balance of proposals which were intended to offer each of the parties something, while not completely satisfying any. The British Government is planning to concede UUP demands for the elections to be based on 18 constituencies, while the SDLP won its demand for a referendum on the peace process to be held on the same day as the Northern Ireland elections.
t A 10-year-old girl and a man were seriously injured in a shooting incident in north Belfast last night.Reuse content