`The last time some of these people were together was probably in the Maze'

Michael Streeter on Sinn Fein's historic first appearance at Stormont
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The Independent Online
In bright sunshine and surrounded by journalists, delegates from Sinn Fein strolled into offices at Stormont yesterday marking a small moment of history which immediately provoked a walkout by some Unionists.

On past occasions, Sinn Fein representatives have been stopped at Stormont's imposing iron gates. Saturday's IRA ceasefire meant that yesterday's five- strong delegation was allowed to install itself in the Castle Buildings, although they will not take part in the peace talks until September. Among their number was party chairman Mitchel McLaughlin, who described the occasion as a "significant" moment, and convicted terrorist Gerry Kelly, now a leading Sinn Fein figure, who received a life sentence for his part in the IRA bombing of the Old Bailey in 1972. He was also involved in the mass breakout of republican prisoners from the Maze prison in 1983.

Although the UK Unionist Party, led by MP Robert McCartney, left within minutes of Sinn Fein's arrival, representatives of the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party, who themselves include ex-loyalist paramilitary figures, stayed inside the building. The arrival of the Sinn Fein team in their midst prompted one observer to remark: "The last time some of these people were in the same building was probably in the Maze."

At a brief press conference, Mr McLaughlin rejected Unionist claims of a clandestine agreement between his party and the British government to enable the IRA to call a ceasefire and let political representatives into the talks. "There was no secret deal, we are not interested in secret deals," he said. Mr McLaughlin insisted that self-determination would be on the talks agenda as would the controversial issue of decommissioning of weapons. He said the true hope for peace came from a negotiated settlement.

At a separate meeting Mr McCartney told journalists that his party had always made clear it would not negotiate with those who supported violence. The Stormont talks and the parallel Forum had failed, he said, and had simply been used as a device to give a "veneer" of respectability when in reality the British and Irish governments were stitching up secret deals with different groups. He said his party would return on Wednesday to vote against the British government's proposals on decommissioning.

The uncertain political atmosphere following the ceasefire was emphasised when the Royal Ulster Constabulary said it had no plans at this time to relax security measures. "It's far too soon to be thinking about changes to security yet, we will have to wait to see what happens."

Their caution is reflected by the fact that two breakaway republican groups, the Irish National Liberation Army and the Continuity Army Council, have not called a truce.

There are also persistent rumours that some IRA volunteers were angry at the imposition of the ceasefire, though they expected to follow the leadership's line.

A recently painted slogan in Falls Road area of Belfast reads: "No Ceasefire."

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