Blair driven to fury by MPs' defiance on Adams

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair, the Labour leader, was last night locked in confrontation with two left-wing MPs, one of them the veteran Tony Benn, following their continued defiance over their plans to hold a meeting with the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in the Commons today.

Mr Blair's anger and his threat to discipline the two, was exacerbated by the sensitivity surrounding shoot-to-kill allegations over the death of a suspected IRA terrorist in London earlier this week

The allegations - unwelcome reminders of the Gibraltar shoot-to-kill controversy - appeared to be supported by the Irish prime minister, John Bruton, who called in the Irish parliament in Dublin for an investigation into the shooting.

Mr Adams said yesterday that, contrary to early reports of a gunfight, the dead man Diarmuid O'Neill, 27 "didn't even have a weapon". Five men are still in custody after raids which yielded 10 tonnes of explosive which police said were about to be primed.

But his allegations were overshadowed by the political row which engulfed Mr Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, who he was due to meet at nine o'clock this morning in defiance of the Serjeant-at-Arms, who has banned a press conference to publicise Mr Adams's biography, but has no powers to ban a private meeting.

Donald Dewar, Labour's chief whip, issued a blunt warning that Mr Corbyn faced "disciplinary action" if he went ahead. Mr Dewar said in a statement: "I wish to make it clear that Mr Corbyn is acting on his own behalf and must take responsibility for so doing. The Labour Party is not involved or associated in any way. We utterly condemn his proposed action."

The tone made it clear that if Mr Corbyn went ahead with th meeting, he would lose the Labour whip in the Commons and be unable to stand as a Labour candidate at the next election.

But the decisive action was complicated when it emerged that the room in the Palace of Westminster for the meeting had been booked in the joint names of Mr Corbyn and Tony Benn, veteran leader of the left.

Any attempt on the eve of next week's Labour conference to expel Mr Benn would throw the party into turmoil.

Mr Adams gained the support of John O'Donoghue, justice spokesman for the Irish opposition Fianna Fail party, who said he feared British police may have operated a "shoot-to-kill" policy. He demanded an inquiry "at the very highest level".

Scotland Yard is refusing to comment officially on the shooting, but confirmed yesterday via "sources" that O'Neill, who was known as Dermot, was unarmed when he was shot up to 10 times at a guest house in Hammersmith, west London. He died later in hospital.

Clear links between O'Neill and an IRA active service unit have been established, according to intelligence sources in London, although Irish sources have questioned this assertion.

The anti-terrorist officers involved in the raid had been informed, incorrectly, that there were firearms in the guest house. MI5 would have provided the bulk of intelligence, much of which was probably obtained from telephone and electronic listening devices.

Scotland Yard sources were confident yesterday that an on-going investigation by the Police Complaints Authority will exonerate them of any wrongdoing. A police source said: "The officers involved were in fear of their lives and believed the suspect was armed." Officers must believe this is the case before they open fire.

Yesterday, it emerged that the five men - one of whom is O'Neill's brother, Shane, 23, - facing a fourth day in police custody are being questioned about the massive Docklands lorry bomb in February in which two people died. Monday's seizures and raids are not, at this stage, believed to be linked with that incident.

The inquest on O'Neill, who has Irish parents and was born and brought up in London, was opened and his body was released for burial.

Labour MPs yesterday condemned Mr Corbyn. Clive Soley, MP for Hammersmith, where an IRA bomb was disarmed, said his constituents "will not understand violence".

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