Discovery of IRA list of targets 'does not threaten ceasefire'

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The Independent Online

The Government said yesterday there was no imminent threat to the IRA ceasefire, despite the discovery of a "hit list" containing the names of senior Conservatives.

It is understood security officials were aware of the list before it became public and did not inform the Tories because they judged the risk of attack had not increased. The list was based on published information. Tony Blair met Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, at Downing Street to discuss the list, which is understood to include the name of Michael Ancram, the party's deputy leader and a former Northern Ireland minister.

The list was discovered during a police search in connection with the break-in at a Special Branch office in Belfast. Sinn Fein has blamed a spate of damaging stories in the run-up to next month's Irish general election on disgruntled members of the police or security forces who oppose the Good Friday Agreement.

John Reid, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, hinted yesterday that he had some sympathy for Sinn Fein's complaints. He said the Government took the list seriously but would not rush to judgement on the basis of "speculation" based on leaks some of which were "misinformed and perhaps mischievous". Mr Reid added: "The information that I have is that there has been no enhanced threat to any individual politician at Westminster in any party."

The Tories, who warned last week that the discovery of the list posed a threat to the peace process, adopted a more measured tone yesterday. After his talks with Mr Blair, Mr Duncan Smith said: "He has assured me that he takes the reports of the compiling of these documents as matters of the utmost seriousness and will continue to look into the matter directly."

David Trimble, the Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, demanded meetings with Mr Blair and the Sinn Fein leaders, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. The Ulster Unionists tabled a motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly calling on Mr Reid to make a judgement on whether the IRA ceasefire was holding.