In the next few days the lone British bobby who guards the door
10 Downing Street had better get used to doing a lot of saluting.
Chances are he'll have to greet 27 Ulster Unionist members of
Northern Ireland's legislative assembly. Government sources in
London say the assembly members soon will each receive an invitation
to an unprecedented face-to-face meeting with Tony Blair.
The British leader is working to a deliberately tight July 15
deadline to get the province's pro-British Protestants to agree to
share political power with Catholics in a self-rule government.
Beyond the shiny black door of the prime minister's London
residence, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland's
religious majority can expect to come under intense pressure on this
Changes to 'final' peace plan?
And in a bid to dispel Unionist doubts - which by the weekend
appeared considerable - Mr. Blair will offer to make limited changes
to the supposedly "final" peace plan hammered out in a marathon five-
day bargaining session last week in Belfast.
Senior British government officials say he plans to give the
assembly members assurances that if the Irish Republican Army fails
to begin decommissioning its terrorist weapons in the coming weeks,
the Northern Ireland assembly will remain in existence, without the
IRA's political ally, Sinn Fein, as part of it.
Earlier Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, had
indicated that the assembly and all other aspects of last year's
Friday agreement would be suspended if the IRA failed to give up or
destroy its weapons.
In an extremely unclear situation, specialists on Northern Ireland
are reluctant to predict the outcome of the coming days of
bargaining. Deagln de Bradn, analyst in Belfast for the Dublin-
Irish Times, says the answer to whether the IRA will decommission
weapons is "a definite maybe."
Blair and Mr. Ahern say they have been assured that "within days"
the IRA will then begin handing in its arms.
Blair has set July 15 as the date for the executive to be approved
by the assembly, probably in a brief but highly symbolic session. By
September, the assembly would reconvene, by which time, the two
premiers say, it will be possible to decide whether or not
decommissioning is under way.
This formula differs sharply from current Unionist demands that
decommissioning should begin ahead of the appointment of ministers
the executive body, or at the very least simultaneously with it. …