Secret IRA talks denied

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The Independent Online
The Government and the Irish republican movement both denied yesterday that two meetings between a former minister and Sinn Fein amounted to "a secret new channel of communication with the IRA".

A Sunday newspaper had claimed that former Northern Ireland Office minister Michael Mates had been on a secret mission as part of British and Irish government moves aimed at restoring the IRA ceasefire.

Sinn Fein yesterday said that Mr Mates had held two meetings, in a period of nine months, with its chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, and Gerry Kelly. The first took place in September last year while the second happened three weeks ago.

Mr McLaughlin said yesterday: "The two meetings involved a frank exchange of views. The significance of the dialogue, which we welcome, shouldn't be exaggerated. Nothing of substance emerged."

He added: "Inaccurate and misleading reporting have become a hallmark for sections of the British media when covering events in Ireland. It does not assist the search for peace."

Mr Mates said: "I have met one or two people but I am not going to talk about it."

Since the bombing attack in London's Docklands which ended the 17-month IRA ceasefire in February, both British and Irish ministers have refused to meet members of Sinn Fein. But both governments have made clear that contacts would continue through officials.

Michael Ancram, a Northern Ireland minister, said yesterday he was aware that Mr Mates had met Sinn Fein. "This was a private meeting . . . It was not a meeting instigated by the British Government."