High level talks on talks may open today in London

 

HIGH level negotiations about the fixing of a date for all party talks and the form Northern Ireland elections and a referendum might take are expected to open today.

But the difficulties facing Mr John Major's government over Scott Report continue to the negotiations. A defeat in tonight's House of Commons vote push an Anglo Irish summit into next week.

The Taoiseach and Mr Major discussed the political situation and the prospects for a renewed IRA ceasefire by phone for more than an hour yesterday as part of a series of ongoing contacts.

A Government spokesman said some progress had been made during the "substantial discussions" between the two leaders but that issues were still out standing. No date had been set for a summit, he said, and there was no specific, definitive agreement on a date for all party talks.

An exchange of documentation between the two governments setting out the conflicting approaches by the various parties to a fixed date for negotiations; the form an election and a referendum might take, and related issues, are expected to clear the way for negotiations by members of the Anglo Irish Liaison Group.

The Government is keenly aware of Mr Major's political difficulties in the House of Commons, but it is adamant a fixed date for all party talks is an urgent requirement and a necessary prerequisite to a renewal of the IRA ceasefire. It is still working on the assumption it may be possible to hold a summit meeting next Wednesday.

But if Mr Major loses tonight's vote, all schedules are likely to be thrown aside as the British government attempts to survive a vote of no confidence.

Because of the sharp disagreements which exist between the Northern Ireland political parties over a referendum and an electoral process, these issues may be deferred by the two governments for discussion in a time locked arrangement - such as proximity talks - which would take into account a fixed date for all party talks.

As tens of thousands of people across the country marched in favour of peace and a negotiated settlement yesterday, the President, Mrs Robinson, Mr Bruton and the Tanaiste, Mr Spring, said the protests sent a clear message to the IRA that the violence should stop. The Taoiseach also expressed confidence that the two governments were "moving towards an agreement on a specific date for all party talks".

As tens of thousands of people across the country marched in favour of peace and a negotiated settlement yesterday, the President, Mrs Robinson, Mr Bruton and the Tanaiste, Mr Spring, said the protests sent a clear message to the IRA that the violence should stop. The Taoiseach also expressed confidence that the two governments were "moving towards an agreement on a specific date for all party talks".

The leader of the Progressive Democrats, Ms Mary Harney, said the two governments must intensify their efforts to move the peace process forward. She supported the naming of a specific date for all party talks in the aftermath of any elective process that might be agreed.

Recognising the difficulties of Mr Major in the House of Commons, she hoped a summit could be held this week and she saw hopeful signs in last week's meeting of the SDLP and the DUP; in John Hume's openness to an elective process, and in David Trimble's willingness to meet the Government.