Adams is cleared to meet MPs, says Benn: Sinn Fein leader's talks with SDLP provoke confrontation in Commons. Colin Brown reports

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THE SPEAKER of the Commons has said there are 'no obstacles' to Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, meeting MPs at the Houses of Parliament to pursue plans for peace and an IRA ceasefire, Tony Benn told the Commons yesterday.

In the first full-scale Commons debate since the disclosure of the secret talks between Mr Adams and John Hume, the SDLP leader, over a constitutional settlement for Ulster with a cessation of terrorist violence, Mr Benn urged Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, not to oppose the visit.

But the killing of a Protestant building contractor by the IRA highlighted the stumbling blocks. Ulster Unionist MPs accused the Sinn Fein leader of being 'a terrorist stained by the blood of innocent people'.

Defending his talks with Mr Adams, Mr Hume told Sir Patrick: 'I am saying hurry up and deal with it because I believe that an opportunity is there . . .'

Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, will raise the Hume-Adams initiative with John Major at the EC summit in Brussels next Friday. However, Sir Patrick made it clear that the Government would not talk to Sinn Fein until the end of violence had been established.

He said the inter-party talks, excluding Sinn Fein, were still 'alive'. 'A lot of people have been quick to write this process off. I don't agree with them . . .'

Mr Hume said the dialogue with Mr Adams was the 'most hopeful in 20 years'. He accused the Ulster Unionists of being fixed in a 'mind-set'. 'I make no apologies to anyone for entering into a dialogue with Mr Adams for the objective of bringing a total cessation of all violence . . . I hope this happens as soon as possible. I want to see the two governments meeting next week.'

He was told it was no good coming to the Commons to speak in 'platitudes and cliches' by Ken Maginnis, the Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist MP for Antrim North, said the purpose of the Hume-Adams talks was 'not peace - it is surrender' by the Unionists.

Kevin McNamara, the Labour spokesman, confirmed he was against Ireland unilaterally abandoning articles two and three of the Irish constitution, laying claim to Ulster. But he said the sovereignty claims by Britain and the Republic over Northern Ireland should be put on the negotiating table.

Sinn Fein dealt the Social Democratic and Labour Party an embarrassing blow yesterday when it held a local council seat in a Londonderry by-election.

The SDLP had been confident of taking the seat but its candidate was more than 550 votes behind the Sinn Fein winner. Sinn Fein said that the result was an endorsement of the Hume-Adams talks.

(Photograph omitted)