Major breaks stalemate over Northern Ireland peace negotiations

May 16, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Prime Minister John Major broke yesterday a deadlock threatening the first multiparty talks on peace in Northern Ireland in 17 years.

Provincial political leaders will now meet on Monday in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for round-table talks, chaired by Peter Brooke, the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland

Protestant unionist leaders from Northern Ireland flew to London to meet with Mr. Major after rejecting a 24-hour ultimatum from Mr. Brooke.

On Tuesday, Mr. Brooke said he would abandon his peace initiative unless the unionists immediately accepted his proposal for the site of the next round of negotiations, which are scheduled to start in June and include representatives from Ireland.

Initially, the unionists ruled out meeting Dublin officials anywhere in Ireland, north or south, until the Irish stated their readiness to renounce the south's constitutional territorial claim to the north. The unionists said that any talks with Dublin should be in London, symbolizing their wish to keep Northern Ireland part of Britain.

Ian Paisley, leader of the the Ulster Democratic Unionist Party, said afterward that the talks with Mr. Major had been "helpful and encouraging."

He credited Mr. Major with "showing his feeling for Northern Ireland and his dedication to taking time to deal with the difficulties which had arisen."

He said the unionists were now willing to play "a full part" in the first phase of the negotiations -- face-to-face meetings with other provincial leaders.

They also agreed, in principle, to terms for participating in succeeding rounds involving the Irish government.

Mr. Paisley said that he was prepared to agree on a venue in Northern Ireland. Armagh, near the north-south border, has been mentioned.

Mr. Brooke will now put the idea of a Northern Ireland venue to the other party leaders in the province. They accepted his earlier suggestion that the talks with the Irish should open in London, and then move to Belfast and end in Dublin. They are not expected to object to the compromise.

But John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, which represents most Catholic moderates in Northern Ireland, showed his annoyance yesterday at the unionists, telling reporters: "We are becoming increasingly angry and impatient that the whole process is being put in serious jeopardy by those who frustrate every attempt to reach agreement."

Dublin officials are expected to join the negotiations after the plenary sessions between Northern Ireland's Catholic and Protestant party leaders have thrashed out a formula for internal provincial relations. This is expected to involve some form of power sharing.

When Dublin joins the talks, the focus will shift to north-south relations. Under the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Irish government has a voice in Northern Ireland affairs as representative of the province's Catholic minority. The agreement has been rejected by the unionists as sanctioning outside interference in internal affairs.

Another of the unionist concerns was who would chair the north-south session. They feared there might be an Anglo-Irish co-chair involving Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Collins.

Mr. Major agreed yesterday that an independent chairman would be appointed.

Mr. Brooke's initiative is an effort to "transcend" the 1985 agreement and to allow political power in Northern Ireland to be exercised by both Protestant and Catholic parties, ending direct rule by London.

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