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Irish nationalist leaders unveil 'consensus' plan to unite Ireland

Leaders of the four main Irish nationalist parties have unveiled proposals to end the political division of Ireland. Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald called the plans ''not a blueprint but an agenda.''

The four leaders, along with party delegations, have sat for almost a year as the New Ireland Forum in the hope of establishing a consensus of the democratic nationalist parties, three from the Republic of Ireland and one from Northern Ireland.

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They considered more than 300 written submissions and debated intensively various options for progress toward peaceful constitutional change and ending the terrorist violence and civil disturbances that have plagued Northern Ireland for 15 years.

The 14,000-word report set out as a preferred solution the end of British sovereignty over Northern Ireland and the creation of a unitary Irish state with a single government, parliament, and legal system, but with guarantees for the separate identity and civil liberties of 1 million Northern Irish Protestants. A new nonsectarian constitution, it says, would be required for such a state.

As other options, the report mentions a north-south federation or confederation, and joint sovereignty over Northern Ireland by Dublin and London.

The parties involved in the forum claim to represent 75 percent of the 5 million Irish population, north and south, and 90 percent of nationalist voters. Sinn Fein, the political wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army, was excluded from the proceedings because of its support for the IRA terrorist campaign.

The leaders denounced the settlement of 1920-25 - when most of Ireland broke away from the United Kingdom - as a failure, citing the constant violence and constitutional crisis in Northern Ireland under British rule.

But they refrained from seeking at this time a withdrawal of Britain's guarantee to the 1 million Northern Protestants, who vote for union with Britain in all elections, that Northern Ireland will not cease to be a part of the United Kingdom without their consent.

Instead, the Irish government will seek the consent of the unionists for the new constitutional moves. There is hope that Britain will pressure unionists to attend a constitutional conference. opes are also reposed in the friendly interest of the United States.

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The British Cabinet will soon consider the report, and parliamentary debate will be held next month. But initial British reaction was less than favorable. The secretary of state for Northern Ireland, James Prior, did not believe the unionists' consent would be forthcoming.

And a statement by Charles Haughey, leader of the main opposition party in the Republic of Ireland, cast doubt on the contention that a nationalist consensus had been achieved. Saying that only a unitary state would suffice, Mr. Haughey suggested he did not take seriously the other options put forward.

This caused disappointment and confusion among other Irish political leaders and among the Irish and foreign news media covering the publication of the report.

A stark economic report attached to the forum's report stated that the Republic of Ireland - which has a faltering economy and an unemployment rate of 15 percent - could not afford to take over responsibility for Northern Ireland. Either the annual British subsidy to the North, estimated to run as high as $2 billion, would have to continue indefinitely, or aid would have to be sought from the US or the European Community.

The forum also raised the question of whether the present financial situation can continue. It estimates that violence has cost Britain and Northern Ireland more than $11 billion and the Republic $2.7 billion since 1969.

The forum also points out that the constant violence and lack of political progress in Northern Ireland have so divided the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities that there is an imminent danger of full-scale civil war.

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