British and Irish ministers said Saturday that they had nearly completed complex new Northern Ireland peace proposals, which the province’s main political party rejects outright.
“There are no significant matters of substance between us at this stage,” Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring said after almost five hours of talks with British Northern Ireland Secretary Patrick Mayhew.
The two ministers said officials would be in contact over the weekend about the framework document that they have been drafting for two years, and they expected to submit it to their respective governments for approval next week.
Spring said no further meetings between the two ministers are planned.
Mayhew hinted that the only matters to be settled were ones of language and presentation.
But Northern Ireland’s Protestant Unionist politicians reiterated that they will not take part in any all-party talks on the document because they fear that it will pander to their nationalist foes, who seek the unification of Ireland.
Hard-line Protestant leader Ian Paisley said his Democratic Unionist Party will not discuss the document. He said he expected the bigger Ulster Unionist Party to do likewise.
“We will not be at any table at which the framework document is set out as part of an agenda,” Paisley told BBC radio.
Neither Spring nor Mayhew would be drawn into speculation about a possible boycott by Unionists, who want Northern Ireland to stay British and fear that the framework document threatens their cherished British sovereignty.
The document is known to propose that Britain and Ireland drop rival constitutional claims to Northern Ireland and place the onus on the 60% Protestant majority and Catholic minority to work out a new future in peace.
It will also propose setting up cross-border institutions to manage economic affairs, but Unionists fear that this will bring them under Dublin’s influence and eventually erode their Britishness.
British and Irish leaders have tried to blunt the anger of Unionists by saying that the document is only a discussion paper that will require approval by referendum and by government.