Commons probe Sinn Fein visit

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John Rentoul and David McKittrick

The Prime Minister condemned the "stunning naivety" of three Labour MPs yesterday as he announced an inquiry into claims that they had let prominent Irish republicans wander about unaccompanied in the House of Commons.

Responding to the report in yesterday's Independent that the three MPs had been called in by Donald Dewar, the Labour chief whip, to explain themselves, John Major told the Commons that the Government had already written to Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker.

"My understanding is that these representatives of Sinn Fein were invited to the House to meet a number of Honourable Members, that no prior notification about the meeting was given and that they were from time to time left unattended," Mr Major told MPs.

To prolonged Tory cheers, he declared: "I don't know what the outcome of this inquiry will be - but I think it is stunning naivety of any Honourable Member not to realise the connection between Sinn Fein and the IRA."

Labour leftwingers Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn and Alan Simpson met Mitchel McLaughlin, a leading figure in Sinn Fein, three weeks ago in a cafeteria in the Palace of Westminster. They were observed by members of the security services, who reported their concern to the Speaker that one of Mr McLaughlin's party had been unaccompanied on a visit to the toilet for 20 minutes. Miss Boothroyd is believed to have referred the report to Mr Dewar.

But in an unprecedented public comment, MI5 "categorically" denied that it had "any involvement" in the events reported yesterday. The Speaker's office had no comment to make on which part of the security services had contacted Miss Boothroyd.

Mr Livingstone yesterday accused whoever had complained about his meeting with Sinn Fein of living in a "fantasy world". But Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, said complaints of security breaches were taken "very seriously" by Labour's leadership. Mr McLaughlin made no public comment, but republican sources were privately scornful of the idea that senior IRA activists should have been in the Commons with Mr McLaughlin, one of the party's most familiar faces on television.

A Sinn Fein source said Mr McLaughlin had noted a bald-headed man with ginger hair paying attention to him. He added: "Mitchel took him for a walk around the place. The guy was keeping an eye on him, so he went for a wee walk, taking your man with him. " Mr McLaughlin's companions in the Commons were senior Sinn Fein member Bairbre de Brun, together with Frank O'Neill, a London-based republican sympathiser.

As head of the party's international department, Ms de Brun is a well- known Sinn Fein figure who has made many television appearances. Mr O'Neill is said to be a member of the Wolfe Tone Society but not a member of Sinn Fein. Neither seems a likely member of the IRA army council.

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