NI plan to be issued tomorrow as sectarian violence increases

 

The British and Irish governments will publish their joint package aimed at breaking the political deadlock in Northern Ireland tomorrow, against a background of heightening sectarian violence and tension.

The potential for violence to worsen if publication of the blueprint fails to end the stalemate was reinforced by the murder of a young Protestant man, Mr Gavin Brett, in north Belfast on Sunday night.

The Red Hand Defenders admitted responsibility for the killing and threatened further attacks that would "increase in ferocity in the coming weeks, months and days". The RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said the terrorists thought their victim was a Catholic.

The Northern Secretary, Dr John Reid, is to hold an "urgent" meeting with Sir Ronnie this afternoon to discuss the volatile security situation.

It is against this backdrop that the British-Irish proposals aimed at rescuing the Belfast Agreement are to be published, notwithstanding earlier comments by the Ulster Unionist leader, Mr David Trimble, that its presentation to the parties might be further postponed.

The document is to be presented to the parties in the morning and shortly after will be formally released to the public, a Northern Ireland Office spokesman said last night. There may be a press conference to mark the official release of the document, possibly at Hillsborough.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and the British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, still hope their proposals will be viewed as sufficiently balanced to win the acquiescence of all pro-Belfast Agreement parties, and to prompt the IRA to make a move on decommissioning.

"The negotiations are over. The document will have to do the talking now," said one insider last night.

The governments are conscious that the prospects of a breakthrough may chiefly hinge on whether the IRA will make a substantive gesture on arms that could persuade unionists to at least tolerate proposals such as policing changes and an amnesty for paramilitaries on the run.

There is still great uncertainty over how or whether the IRA will respond to the governments' blueprint.

The Sinn Fein president, Mr Gerry Adams, said yesterday that reports of an imminent statement from the IRA were speculative. Asked if he expected a statement, Mr Adams responded: "Don't hold your breath."