Saturday, July 3, 1999 Published at 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Unionists cool over NI plan
A soldier on patrol as hundreds of Orangemen prepare to arrive at Drumcree
Unionists have been pouring cold water on the Blair-Ahern plan to break the impasse in the Northern Ireland peace process as tension mounts over Sunday's Drumcree march.
Under the proposal released on Friday evening by the UK and Irish prime ministers a timetable would be established to set up the executive in mid-July with the arms handover starting days later and to be completed by May 2000.
All parties now have two weeks for their members to consider the 'Way Forward' document.
"We have been asked literally to jump onto glass in our bare feet, and because the IRA have not agreed to give up their guns, they're being given a free run."
He said he believed his party would reject the Blair-Ahern plan.
He said he believed that if David Trimble tried to call a meeting of the 850 members of his party's Ulster Unionist Council to ratify a decision to accept the proposal the party would tear itself apart.
"If he called them to propose we run with this, there would be trouble. We would be totally divided," he said.
Responding to unionist doubts Tony Blair said: "Anyone who is opposed to this will have some explaining to do."
He said: "It offers certainty that if decommissioning doesn't happen - the whole thing is scrapped, so it offers a complete legislative fail-safe."
"If [decommissioning] doesn't happen and if the whole thing is scrapped, unionism is no worse off and its clear that the reason that we can't make progress in Northern Ireland is that republicans haven't done it.
"If unionism doesn't take this opportunity, what are people going to conclude? "
Sinn Fein, who are being asked to give the IRA's commitment to disarmament, have not yet said whether they will accept the plan but appear more positive.
"If we all work together we can realise objectives," he said. "Let's go for a new beginning .. but we have to work togther to achieve it."
The plan was put forward by the two prime ministers amid fears of an outbreak of violence at Sunday's controversial march at Drumcree by Protestant Orangemen. The march has been banned from passing a nationalist housing estate.
Within days the handover of weapons would begin, a process that would be completed by May 2000.
They say failure to complete decommissioning would lead to the suspension of all institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement.
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