DUBLIN, Ireland -- The Irish government will be "flexible and imaginative" when it meets pro-British unionists from Northern Ireland for the first time ever in multiparty peace talks, officials here said yesterday.
The Irish government will be called to the negotiating table as soon as the political parties of Northern Ireland have reached broad agreement on internal provincial political reforms.
The second phase of the negotiations, expected to start early next month, will focus on the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The third and final round will deal with British-Irish issues.
The opening round of political talks between Roman Catholinationalists, who want a united Ireland, and Protestant unionists, who want Northern Ireland to remain British, opened this week in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The talks involve Peter Brooke, Britain's secretary for Northern Ireland; the mainly Catholic Social Democratic Labor Party; and the non-sectarian Alliance party.
Mr. Brooke will meet with the unionist leaders tomorrow before chairing a meeting of the province's political leaders next week -- the first face-to-face session of the Catholic and Protestant officials in 17 years.
In Dublin, Prime Minister Charles J. Haughey has taken personal charge of negotiating preparations.
"There is a certain sense of excitement," a Foreign Ministry official said yesterday, noting that it would be the first time the unionists have agreed to discuss the future of Ireland with Dublin.
"There has never been the remotest chance of it happening before. Haughey has always sought precisely this sort of round-table, Irishmen face-to-face," said the official, speaking on condition that he not be identified.
"For the last 25 years, all the unionists have been able to say is 'No.' Now saying 'No' is simply not good enough. It is quite clear they have to begin to think and to negotiate. We want open-ended discussions."
Mr. Haughey, according to officials, is willing "to put everything on the table," including consideration of repealing or amending two articles in the 1937 Irish Constitution that lay claim to the six provinces of the north as part of a united Ireland.
"Unity of this island is something that is an aspiration. To the extent that it is not achievable, we are trying to find a set of circumstances, a set of structures, in this island that will meet the concerns of the government here and the people in Northern Ireland," said the official.
"What we want is peace and stability on the island. We want institutions that properly reflect the complicated relations in this island and between it and Britain."