Political talks at Stormont in Northern Ireland got off to an unpromising start yesterday when some of the invited people stayed away and some uninvited people turned up, to be refused entry.
The publicity initiative was seized by the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, who appeared with a large party delegation, only to be unceremoniously turned away at the gates. He was told quietly but firmly by a government official that Sinn Fein was not to be allowed in. Inside the talks building the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, and the Irish foreign affairs minister, Dick Spring, were joined by the SDLP and Alliance parties, together with one of the fringe loyalist groupings, the Ulster Democratic Party.
The talks were boycotted by the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionists and another loyalist fringe party, the Progressive Unionists. The UUP leader, David Trimble, and DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, are instead to meet Sir Patrick in London tomorrow. Mr Paisley said he would not enter the building because of the presence of an Irish minister.
Sir Patrick made light of this difficult first day, commenting: "This is the first of 10 days of intensive talks, I am sure it is going to succeed. After long years of experience, I think it was an entirely predictable start, but we have had inauspicious starts before and we have come through to some quite good things."
Mr Spring added: "I believe all the parties should start talking to one another."
The talks, which are due to end on 13 March, centre on the question of what type of election might bring political advance. They are also intended to consider whether a peace referendum might be held, and to work out arrangements for the main all-party talks which are due to begin on 10 June.
Both the British and Irish governments have said ministers will not meet Sinn Fein until the IRA call a new ceasefire, but there had been some speculation that Sinn Fein could have an input into the present round of discussions via meetings with government officials.
It now appears, however, that Sinn Fein are not to be allowed into the building in the absence of a ceasefire.
Sir Patrick described the appearance of the Sinn Fein delegation as "a demonstration designed to secure publicity". The SDLP leader, John Hume, said his party had been rather surprised by the exclusion of Sinn Fein, having assumed that they would be in the building and free to talk to other parties and officials.Reuse content