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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Major Finds Rift With Dublin Over Plan for Early Elections

LONDON -- A damaging rift opened up between London and Dublin on Thursday as the Irish government reacted with dismay to British Prime Minister John Major's proposal that elections could offer a new path to peace in Northern Ireland.

Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, Major's partner in the search for peace, complained that he had not been consulted in advance about the idea, which he said could be interpreted as threatening an agreed timetable for a political settlement.

"That will create distrust, perhaps unjustifiable distrust, but distrust just the same," Bruton told the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly in Strasbourg, France.

Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring said earlier elections could lead to a dead end and chided Major for ignoring other proposals put forward by former U.S. senator George Mitchell.

Bruton and Spring did not reject out of hand elections as a way of building confidence between the province's pro-British Protestant majority and its Catholic, nationalist minority.

But they noted that Mitchell, in a report released Wednesday, had cautioned that an election would have to be broadly acceptable and with an appropriate mandate.

"Our worry at the present time is that these conditions will not be met and the election idea could prove to be a cul-de-sac," Spring said.

Major plumped for an elected all-party forum as the route to peace talks after Mitchell bluntly told him that his preferred option -- partial disarmament by the IRA and rival Protestant guerrillas leading to roundtable talks -- was a non-starter.

Mitchell, heading a three-member mediating team, recommended instead that the guerrillas, who fought a 25-year civil war before calling cease-fires 16 months ago, should hand in some weapons while talks take place.

To the fury of nationalists, Major rejected Mitchell's compromise, saying it would not find favor with Protestant politicians. Protestant parties, however, have said they may be prepared to negotiate with nationalists in an elected body, even if the Irish Republican Army continued to refuse to disarm.

Major, defending his proposal, said talks could start right away if the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, would agree to scrap guerrilla weapons. "If they will begin the decommissioning of their arms there would be no justification for any party not to attend and join in all-party talks," he told parliament.

Asked whether there was now a serious dispute between Dublin and London, Spring said: "Well, I think there's a problem, but in the past the two governments have worked together and we've done so successfully to make progress."