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Adams stays in media firing line with verdict on shooting

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams prompted fresh controversy yesterday as he side-stepped questions about this week's swoop on an IRA explosives cache, insisting he was simply "very pleased that only one person was killed".

Mr Adams pressed ahead with his London visit, despite his decision to pull out of a Commons meeting with Labour backbenchers Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn. The Sinn Fein leader did meet the MPs at a venue outside the Commons and posed for cameras on the green in front of Parliament.

Mr Adams held a news conference in the Irish Centre in Camden, north London, instead. He admitted he had nearly pulled out of news conferences and book-launches in Dublin and Belfast as well as in London because of what happened earlier this week. "I am quite sensitive that, at a time when a young man has been killed in quite controversial circumstances in London, that I have other priorities," he said.

His suggestion that he was "very pleased that only one person was killed" in the security forces swoop on suspected IRA terrorists earlier this week came in response to a question about whether he welcomed the seizure of 10 tons of explosives.

"I think that in all of this you can look at a particular incident. We need to look at the larger position," he said.

He said he had never met Diarmuid O'Neill - the suspected terrorist who was killed - but repeated his call for questions to be answered about the circumstances of his death.

Mr Corbyn broke a silence that had lasted several days today when he told BBC Radio 4's World at One that he had been surprised at all the fuss over the planned Commons meeting with the Sinn Fein President.

"Gerry Adams has been into the building before and, if there's to be a peace process in Ireland, clearly it has got to involve Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams," he said. "Tony Benn and myself expected to have a private meeting in the House of Commons. Somebody decided to make that public.

"It then became a public furore. I thought the meeting should go ahead anyway, but I heard with a phone call at 6.30am from Gerry Adams's personal assistant that the meeting was not going to take place there because he didn't want to continue with the problems being caused."

The republican movement yesterday refrained from claiming Diarmuid O'Neill as a member of the IRA, referring to him in its weekly publication, Republican News, simply as "an Irishman." Instead, the news-sheet concentrated on alleging he had died in "an elaborate shoot-to-kill operation". It announced that a protest picket would be held at Downing Street on Sunday.

Republican News declared: "The killers riddled their victim with bullets and dragged his body from his home. When their deed was done they fed the media the story that the young man had been killed in a gunbattle and that shots had been exchanged.

"Virtually all the media in Britain and Ireland on Monday and Tuesday, in the crucial hours after the killing, dutifully carried this story."

The incident is being compared by republicans to the incident in Gibraltar in 1988 when SAS soldiers shot dead three unarmed IRA members.