Ulster Unionists, Irish clash in Northern Ireland’s peace talks

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — The Northern Ireland peace talks bogged down in another side dispute Wednesday when the main pro-British Protestant party and the Irish government accused each other of obstructing progress.
With the deadline for an agreement one week away, the Ulster Unionists demanded to see the Irish delegation’s final draft for softening their country’s constitutional claim to Northern Ireland, a longstanding Protestant grievance.
The British and Irish governments, which cosponsor the 22-month-old talks, expect the eight participating parties to reach an accord on how to govern British-ruled Northern Ireland by April 9.
Protestant determination to neutralize the Irish territorial claim to Northern Ireland is only one of several heated disputes in which Ulster Unionist and Irish Catholic leaders expect the other side to give way first.
In January, the British and Irish governments recommended that Protestant and Catholic politicians govern Northern Ireland together in a new assembly. In a nod to Catholic demands, senior members of the new government would be expected to participate in a cross-border council with the Irish Republic.
The Ulster Unionists and the main Catholic party, the Social Democratic and Labor Party, or SDLP, accept that approach, but are split on what powers the two proposed institutions should have.
The SDLP wants the assembly to serve as both an administration and a legislature. Each major party — from the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party, the SDLP’s militant rival for Catholic votes, to the uncompromising Protestants of the Democratic Unionist Party — could hold at least one seat in a full-fledged Cabinet that oversees the assembly.
The Ulster Unionists want the Belfast assembly to be purely administrative, and for lawmaking to be left in the hands of the British Parliament. This would leave Northern Ireland firmly within the United Kingdom and limit Northern Ireland’s powers to cooperate with the Irish Republic.