As the peace process enters the fine print stage, seasoned political commentator Robin Wilson warns that there could be constitutional troubles ahead for the Westminster government which have implications for Scottish devolution.

After many long months. the London and Dublin governments are preparing to cross the t‘s and dot the i‘s on a document to chart the way ahead for political negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland.

The so-called ‘framework document‘. which officials began to work on well before the paramilitary ceasefires of last autumn, will represent the accumulated wisdom ofthe two governments. This future will encompass: a devolved assembly with a power-sharing administration; north- south bodies with executive powers. and changes to both the Irish constitution and British legislation to make clear that Northern Ireland‘s constitutional status can be changed. on condition that a majority there so wishes.

Assuming agreement is reached. the task then facing John Major and his recently elevated In'sh counterpart John Bruton will be to shepherd the leaders of nationalism and unionism in Northem ireland to the negotiating table. It won‘t be easy.

Already the mainstream unionist party the Ulster Unionists have threatened to bring down the government increasingly dependent on the UUP since the withdrawal ofthe whip from the nine Euro-sceptic MPs if executive. cross-border bodies for Ireland are advanced: they see that as portending ‘Dublin rule'. On the other side, the arriviste republican


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politicians, led by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. are adamant that

2 the ‘Unionist veto‘ against Irish

unification be removed and a commitment given that ‘British

jurisdiction‘ will. eventually. be ended. And while unionists ofall shades refuse to sit down with SinnFein until some

time perhaps years after IRA weapons have been decommissioned.

the republicans insist that ‘unilateral

demilitarisation‘ in advance of negotiations will not be entertained. So an end to paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland hasn't brought an outbreak of political sweetness and light since the sectarian political divide basically hardened out during the l82()s battle for Catholic emancipation. perhaps that‘s not surprising. But it may be the orin part ofthe UK where a ‘feel good‘ factor

can be discerned: business surveys show a new optimism. there was a 5 record-breaking Christmas consumer

spree. and first Derry and now Belfast

Ironically. the lifting of the threat to life from paramilitary gunmen may also have reduced the always faint pressure on politicians in Northern Ireland to come to an agreement rather than. as in Cyprus. merely to agree to disagree indefinitely. And with the heady days of the ‘peace process‘ -— of handshakes and headlines over, the international media spotlight. under which a politician minded to intransigence may feel required instead to mind his Ps and Qs, has also faded.

Yet, if Ulster‘s politicians are still reading from a well-thumbed constitutional script, at Westminster John Major and Tony Blair are suddenly locked in a constitutional debate which. however long it has simmered in Scotland. has previously been dismissed by English politicans as a matter for the ‘chattering classes‘. It is Major, at first sight, who appears less prepared for the political minefield ahead. The proposals on Northern

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Ireland to which he is set to put his

5 name even if they do not detonate the

political timebomb under his government set by the Ulster Unionists

i will dramatically contradict his

fundamental case against change in

; Scotland. First, the dreaded D-word

will be uttered. Not only that but. to

, cairn unionist nerves in Northern

2 Ireland, he may have to insist that this

is not a slippery slope to Irish separatism. And what will he offer as the unionists‘ balm? the guarantee of a referendum!

Secondly, Mr Major has insisted that sovereignty is one and indivisible:

5 either you have it or you don‘t (in

which case, Brussels does). Yet, in Ireland. on the contrary. the hated Euro- habble of pooling of sovereignty seems set to apply between any new devolved administration and the institutions of the republic. Either way, the sealed container called Parliamentary Sovereignty. represented by the Palace

of Westminster, looks set to become 1 have seen the oppressive army presence ; eased.

decidedly leaky.

Blair may face the greater long-term problems should he enter government. when Labour‘s limited thinking on the English Question may be exposed. But for now. with Ulster and British politics interlocked in a manner unseen since the Home Rule crisis of the l9lOs, Major has the more difficult task of squaring his Storrnont and Scottish stances.

Robin Wilson is editor ofthe Belfast- based political magazine. Fortnight. which is co~sponsor ofa public (.‘onference. GB Politics and Northern Ireland. on Saturday 4 February: in the Central Hotel. Glasgow. from 9am--5_30pm. Speakers include a range of Irish, Scottish and [English politicians, intellectuals and journalists. Yickets £1 2/£ I 5. creche available. Further details from Gordon Guthrie on 014/ 429 2/23. Subscription details for Fortnight on 0232 232353/3/1337.


I Environmental friends Friends of the Earth (Edinburgh) is launching a new campaigning group for the city. separate from the existing group. to focus purely on environmental campaigning. The inaugural meeting is on Thurs 26 Jan, in the Highland Room ofThe Pleasance at 7.30pm. Regular meetings will be held on every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month at 7.30pm in the back room of Bannerman's pub in the Cowgate. The next meeting of Friends of the Earth Edinburgh is on Thurs 2 Feb in the Pentiand Room. The Pleasance at 7.45pm when countryside ranger. Victor Partridge. talks about countryside management in the Pentiands.

I Unemployed action A demonstration against the Criminal Justice Act has been organised for Wed 1 Feb outside the Regional Chambers. Parliament Square. High Street. Edinburgh by the Unemployed Workers Centre (UWC). The demonstration is in defiance ofthe Act and marks the re-opening of the UWC‘s Broughton Street building. In the meantime. the UWC has found a temporary home in the basement of St Stephen‘s Church at the bottom of Howe Street. Office hours: Mon—Fri, noon—4pm. Phone 0131 557 5846.

I Performers’ advice The Performing Rights Society (PRS) is the UK association of composers, songwriters and music publishers which administers the performing rights on their music. distributing monies due for TV. radio and live performances. The PRS hold montth open surgeries with representatives of the PRS. the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society and the Musicians Union. The surgeries are open to all and are an opportunity for members and non- members to obtain expert advice on specific copyright matters or general information about the music industry. The next surgery takes place in Edinburgh at the PRS offices. 3 Rothesay Place. Edinburgh, on Mon 6 Feb. l0am—3pm with one in Glasgow on Mon 6 Mar at the Musicians Union. ll Sandyford Place. Further information from 0131 225 8033.

I Legalise it In response to the new government crackdown on cannabis. with increased penalties included in the Criminal Justice Act, the Legalise Cannabis Campaign has opened a Scottish branch. Membership costs £5 a year (unwaged £4). Further information. with membership forms and leaflets on ‘Cannabis and the Bible' and ‘Ten things every parent teenager and teacher should know about marijuana‘. from ‘LCC Scotland‘, Box No l2758, Edinburgh EH8 9YP, or phone 0131 667 6488.

I Sponsored swim The Edinburgh Greenpeace Supporters group is holding a sponsored swim in the Warrender Swim Centre. Edinburgh on Sun 19 Feb, noon—4pm. Potential swimmers should contact Camilla on Ol3l 553 4195 for sponsor forms.

I If you have news of any events or courses which you want publicised in this column, please forward them to ‘Actlon’ at The list, 14 High Street, i Edinburgh EH1 1'l’E and include a day- time phone number.

The List 27 Jan-9 Feb I995 5