Government U-turn on Sinn Fein talks

The Government has set next Wednesday as the first day of official talks between senior officials and Sinn Fein.

It also reversed its previously announced decision not to allow Sinn Fein to attend a major investment conference due to be held in Belfast in mid-December. The two moves were seen in Belfast as U-turns made by the Government in response to pressure from Washington and nationalist opinion in Ireland.

The continuing US interest in the peace process was underlined when President Bill Clinton announced the creation of a new post of ''special adviser to the President and Secretary of State for Economic Initiatives in Ireland''.

George Mitchell, retiring majority leader in the Senate, has been given the post. ''There must be a peace dividend in Ireland for peace to succeed,'' Mr Clinton said as he announced the appointment, adding: ''It's essential to create more economic opportunity in a region whose prospects have been so blighted by bloodshed.''

The original government decision to exclude Sinn Fein from the investment conference, set up by John Major, provoked anger in Irish-American business and political circles. Some US business executives threatened to boycott the conference if Sinn Fein was not there. London's position was that Sinn Fein should not attend unless it was already in talks with Britain. As a result the Government would have been unable to accede to the US pressure for Sinn Fein to attend the conference without also formally opening political talks.

The government team is to be led by Quentin Thomas, deputy secretary in the Northern Ireland Office, while the Sinn Fein delegation is to be led by the Londonderry republican Martin McGuinness. Both are believed to have been closely involved in the secret talks between the Government and republicans which came to an end a year ago.

The new talks, which will be held at Stormont, will cover demilitarisation, weaponry held by the IRA and the entry of Sinn Fein into the political processes. Mr McGuinness said yesterday his party was ''prepared to be constructive and imaginative in the search for a political resolution of the causes of conflict''.

James Molyneaux's Ulster Unionist Party received the news with equanimity, but the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists said they would boycott the conference if Sinn Fein were there. A spokesman said: ''The Government has embarked on a surrender road with the IRA.''

Despite a conviction among some senior Tory MPs that Washington had played a part in yesterday's announcement, Downing Street last night ''categorically'' denied that the decisions were taken as a result of US pressure.

Officials insisted that the key factor had been, as always, the requirement to have the support of mainstream opinion in Northern Ireland.

But Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary, who said on Wednesday that it would be ''premature'' to invite Sinn Fein to the conference before the process of bringing Sinn Fein into the political process had begun, announced in the Commons yesterday that the Government had decided to invite members of the economic committees of both Belfast and Derry city councils to attend the


''They will, of course, include Sinn Fein if they choose to come,'' he said.

Face to face, page 2

Leading article, page 17

How two decisions were reversed in one day

Wednesday, 11.30am: Mayhew says Sinn Fein is barred from economic conference

12 noon: Gerry Adams tells press conference he will protest to US

4pm: Sir John Wheeler says Government-Sinn Fein talks will start 'within days'

Evening: Whitehall says Wheeler is wrong: talks will be later

Late evening: Pressure from US for Sinn Fein presence at conference

Thursday, 10.20am: Journalists told talks with Sinn Fein start next Wednesday

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk