LONDON and Dublin appear ready to broker a historic deal on British-ruled Northern Ireland, but leaders of the province's majority Protestant community are crying foul.
A leaked draft of a ``framework document,'' proposes creating an authority, run by both the independent Irish Republic in the south and British-ruled Northern Ireland, which would have radical executive powers, including the right to deal directly with the European Union in Brussels.
The draft has angered even Northern Ireland's moderate unionists, who want to stay strictly part of Britain, saying they will pull out of negotiations if the plan goes through.
British officials admitted that the draft proposals, published yesterday in the London Times newspaper, appeared to be genuine. But Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew insisted that there was ``no question'' of any framework document being ``imposed'' on the people of Northern Ireland, which was created as a part of the United Kingdom in 1920. Irish Prime Minister John Bruton called it ``misleading.''
But David Trimble, a member of Parliament and the offfical Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), warned that his party could abandon its support for Prime Minister John Major's government in the British House of Commons.
``It is completely unacceptable to us,'' he said yesterday. ``If the government endorses this, there is no question of us being able to maintain any sort of relationship with them.''
Mr. Major's government would probably fall without the support of Northern Ireland's unionists.
The draft, British government officials confirmed, was the product of negotiations that are continuing between Mayhew and Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister. It declares the ``birthright of everyone born in either jurisdiction to be part, as of right, of the Irish nation.'' It also says Britain would be ``rigorously impartial'' in running Northern Ireland and would not stand in the way of a vote to unite the north and south.
John Taylor, a member of the generally moderate UUP, said: ``If the Times report is correct.... Downing Street is betraying the British majority community in Northern Ireland.''
Prime Minister Major and his Northern Ireland secretary are having to cope with conflicting pressures as they try to build on the September 1994 cease-fire by the Irish Republican Army, which waged a terrorist campaign for 25 years for Northern Ireland to become part of the Irish Republic.
The Dublin government is keen to hammer out a deal that would bring the two parts of Ireland closer together. Major wants to maintain the momentum for peace, but he knows that if Northern Ireland's pro-British unionists dig in their heels, he could lose his government.
To soothe Protestants, Major authorized a statement from Downing Street saying: ``The joint framework document is not completed yet. Important issues remain to be agreed.''
As London and Dublin continue their negotiations on a framework document, the attitude of James Molyneaux, leader of the UUP, is likely to be crucial.
Sources within his party say the taciturn Mr. Molyneaux is not averse to an ``all-Ireland dimension'' being built into an agreement, but is hostile to a gradual transfer of sovereignty from Britain to a joint authority that would be seen as the government of a progressively uniting Ireland.
In an editorial comment on its own story, the Times said that when the framework document finally emerges, it will be ``of far greater importance than the  Downing Street Declaration which heralded the IRA cease-fire.''