Benn asks Adams to Blackpool meeting

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The Independent Online
TONY Benn, Labour's veteran left-winger, has provoked a bitter row by inviting Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, to address a fringe meeting at this year's party conference, writes Stephen Castle.

A spokeswoman for the Labour Party last night described Mr Benn's move as 'ill-judged and inappropriate' given the delicate nature of the peace process. There is no question of Mr Adams taking part in the conference itself, and most delegates would regard the Sinn Fein president with little sympathy given his association with violence, she said.

However the invitation presents a delicate problem for the Government which will have to decide whether to admit Mr Adams to the mainland. Ulster Unionist MPs and right- wing Conservatives will press the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, to continue earlier policy by making Mr Adams the subject of an exclusion order.

But the scrapping of such banning orders, preventing travel to the mainland, are high on Downing Street's list of potential concessions to Sinn Fein, should the IRA ceasefire hold.

Mr Benn's invitation also comes as an embarrassment to the Labour leadership which is keen to present a modernised image at its Blackpool conference four weeks time in October.

However, Labour organisers have no power to prevent an invitation to Mr Adams to address a meeting on the conference fringe.

Last night Mr Benn said he had written to the Prime Minister giving details of the invitation and asking him to lift the exclusion order which prevents the Sinn Fein president from coming to Britain. Mr Adams would be attending a fringe meeting of one of the Irish Labour groups at the conference, he said. 'Everyone in the world can meet Gerry Adams except the British people and they're the ones who have the greatest interest in meeting him.'