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Saturday, July 3, 1999 Published at 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK

UK Politics

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.

The BBC's Linda Duffin: "After five days of negotiatiing there is still no deal and the volatile marching season has begun"
The sticking point in the talks had been the unionists refusal to sit with Sinn Fein members in the new executive unless there was a clear committment from the IRA to disarm.

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.

[ image: Ken Maginnis: Peace deal is
Ken Maginnis: Peace deal is "weak"
But Ulster Unionist security spokesman Ken Maginnis said there was no point in asking his party to approve a change in policy if "there's virtual unanimity that Tony Blair has betrayed us at the 11th hour".

"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.

The Search for Peace
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme, he said: "We cannot accept this. It is not an option. There is nothing in it for unionism."

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.

Ken Maginnis: "We have been asked literally to jump onto glass in our bare feet"
Anti Agreement Ulster Unionist MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, also described Tony Blair's plan as "deeply flawed".

Legislative fail-safe

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.

Mitchell McLaughlin: "Lets go for a kind of new beginning"
The Sinn Fein Chairman, Mitchell McLaughlin, said the proposal was the best deal available.

"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.

[ image:  ]
Mr Blair and Mr Ahern said they hoped to see Northern Ireland's devolved executive take up office on 15 July. Full power would then be devolved to the locally elected assembly on 18 July.

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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