Associated Press

October 23, 1994

LONDON (AP) -- The British government quickly denied a claim by the IRA's political allies Sunday that it is working to unite mainly Protestant Northern Ireland with the Catholic Irish Republic.

Sinn Fein Vice President Martin McGuinness said a government representative had told him that at a private meeting in March 1993.

On his first visit to England since Prime Minister John Major lifted a ban on Friday, McGuinness said the representative confirmed

The representative, whom he refused to identify, was there on the authority of Major and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Patrick Mayhew, McGuinness told BBC television.

Major accepted the IRA's seven-week-old truce on Friday and said his government will start talks before Christmas with Sinn Fein, its political partner.

But Mayhew, Britain's senior official in Northern Ireland, dismissed McGuinness' claim that Britain has reversed its longtime opposition to a united Ireland as "patent nonsense."

So long as the majority in Northern Ireland "wish to remain in the United Kingdom, the British government will uphold that wish," he said.

The province's Protestant majority overwhelmingly opposes a united Ireland.

News reports said McGuinness seemed to be trying to reassure IRA and Sinn Fein hardliners still skeptical about the peace process.

Until it declared a cease-fire Aug. 31, the IRA waged a violent campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland. About 3,200 people have died in sectarian violence since 1969.

Major reopened border posts between Northern Ireland and the republic on Friday and said Britain will talk "at the appropriate time" to Protestant paramilitaries who declared their own cease-fire Oct. 13.

Protestant politicians with close links to paramilitary groups, including three convicted murderers, left Sunday to put their views to the Clinton administration.

The six-member delegation from two small Protestant parties, the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party, will visit New York, Boston and Washington.