Political leaders here and in Dublin accelerated the islandwide debate Wednesday over the proposed new framework for peace in Northern Ireland that is intended to achieve a permanent political settlement of the sectarian warfare in this British province.
High-ranking British and Irish officials reported Tuesday that they had agreed substantially on the major proposals of the framework and that the document would probably be published within 10 days.
Details on “presentation and drafting,” they said, would be worked out in the next few days, leading possibly to a summit meeting between Prime Ministers John Major of Britain and John Bruton of Ireland.
The officials, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew of Britain, and Foreign Minister Dick Spring of Ireland, emphasized that the framework would be a set of proposals, not dictates, that would be discussed by the two governments and all political parties in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
But the assurances that nothing in the framework would be imposed by the two governments, and that all proposals were subject to debate and veto by the political parties, did not mollify some Protestant leaders, who see some of the proposals as a tactic to advance the cause of a united Ireland in which the predominantly Protestant North would be subsumed in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Irish Republic in the South.
One of the most intransigent Protestant leaders, David Trimble, a member of the British Parliament and a influential member of the moderate Ulster Unionist Party, said Wednesday that after a meeting in London on Tuesday with Major, he was unconvinced that Protestants should agree to use the framework as a way toward a political settlement.
Trimble said that “London was woefully out of touch” with Protestant sentiment in the province. Trimble and other unionists have threatened to boycott any negotiatons based on the framework. They are particularly vexed by proposals for cross-border institutions designed to bring Ireland and the North closer economically and politically.
But Paul Arthur, a politics professor at Ulster University, said he thought that the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, James Molyneux, would continue to support Major and try to bring his party to the negotiating table.He is the only Protestant leader who talks to Sinn Fein, and the only one who attends a peace forum set up in Dublin after the IRA began its cease-fire Sept. 1.In Dublin, Bruton said agreement was near on the remaining differences with Britain, and that he thought the document would be published soon. He said he would brief leaders of the opposition parties in the Dublin Parliament on Friday on the specific contents of the framework.Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: “We want to talk. We want to bring about a peace agreement.”Sinn Fein favors the imminent start of negotiations based on the framework. But before that can happen, the IRA must make what Britain calls “substantial progress” toward disarming itself.