LETTER: The Framework Document: presentation, history, hopes, fears and troubles

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From Sir Fred Catherwood

Sir: Having read the detail of the Framework Document in the Independent today, I still think it is the best hope for Northern Ireland, but I can now see why the Ulster Unionist leaders see it as a threat.

Almost two-thirds of the text is taken up by the arrangements for cross- border bodies, the proposed Anglo-Irish Conference, and the protection of minority rights. Not until the last third do we come to the Assembly, which the Unionists want. Yet that would be run by consensus among three leaders directly elected, like the three MEPs, by PR. This will give the minority leader a blocking vote on, for instance, consideration of particular legislation by the Assembly.

But though the proposals seem to be Green in rhetoric, they are Orange in substance. The Unionists have the Assembly they wanted, and they conceded the need for a blocking minority of one-third in the proposals they and the Alliance made in 1985. They also have the vital promise by the Republic to remove the territorial claim to the North. These two hard-won gains should not be given up. There is a lot of hard sense in the cross-border arrangements on EC issues (where the Republic has been getting a lot more money than the North), and since they depend on agreement in the Assembly, there is no way they can be used to suck the North into the Republic against its will.

And, like the minority, the Unionists have everything, including investment and jobs, to gain from peace.

But presentation matters. The Unionists need a big gain in negotiation to offset the Republican bias in the presentation. They should insist on the removal of the directly elected and financed supervisory panel that is to run the Assembly and insist that it elects its own governing body. That is within the competence of the UK; it is an unworkable proposal and would be a major visible gain.

But, above all, they should enter into talks.

Yours sincerely,

FRED CATHERWOOD

Balsham, Cambridgeshire

23 February

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