UUP sees facilitating co-operation role for British Isles council
An Ulster Unionist Party position paper on a possible new political settlement focuses on a Council of the British Isles as having overriding responsibility for future North-South arrangements.
The UUP yesterday published a one-page summary of the document, to be issued in London today, describing it as a "comprehensive position paper" on the three-stranded talks.
The absence of any mention of North-South bodies in the summary, and the expected proposal that any future North-South structures should be consultative rather than executive, will not provide any comfort to the Irish Government, the SDLP or Sinn Fein.
The paper contains six main proposals. In terms of the crucial Irish dimension of any solution, the concentration today is likely to be on proposal No 6 dealing with the UUP's Council of the British Isles.
This council, according to the UUP, will facilitate "mutually beneficial co-operation between all current and proposed administrations in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic serviced by a single small secretariat".
The emphasis on the council and the suggestion that it will have pre-eminence in terms of future North-South structures will provoke a lukewarm, if not hostile, response from nationalists.
Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein, however, said they were pleased that the UUP was bringing forward a position paper for the talks. "We will give their paper careful consideration, and we will come to their paper in a positive and constructive way," said the Sinn Fein president, Mr Gerry Adams.
He nonetheless expressed concern that the UUP, "to quote David Trimble will once again go back to what they are best at, saying No.
"We wait to see the fine detail. But surely there is someone on the unionist side who is prepared to lead their people out of the past and into the future," he added.
Mr Mark Durkan of the SLDP talks team said they would respond to the unionist paper within the talks.
On the expected proposal that North-South bodies should not have executive powers, he added: "We are making it very clear that we have clear political requirements in terms of an outcome from this process. Unless we are satisfied that an agreed outcome actually addresses and embraces the totality of relationships properly and adequately, then we would not be agreeing to any outcome."
The UUP paper will also call for the replacement of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, a new Northern assembly elected by proportional representation, a human rights framework "affording protection to every Northern Ireland citizen" and full recognition and protection of minority rights.
The UUP calls for "constitutional change in the Irish Republic removing the territorial claim over Northern Ireland, and offering full recognition and protection to those of a unionist/British tradition living within the Irish Republic."