Chief Political Correspondent
A group of Labour MPs last night met Mitchell McLoughlin, a leading member of Sinn Fein, in a breach of the cross-party ban on contacts with Sinn Fein following the London Docklands bombing.
The MPs, who included prominent left-wingers, used the meeting at Westminster to demand areturn to the ceasefire.
"The worrying thing is that Mitchell McLoughlin told us he was unable to deliver a ceasefire. We told him to go back to the IRA and tell them that it was the only way forward," a Labour MP who was at the meeting said. The MPs, members of the backbench Northern Ireland committee, meeting unofficially, warned Mr McLoughlin that unless the ceasefire was restored, Sinn Fein would get no support from Labour for its demands for a place at the negotiating table, and would be isolated in Ulster.
British and Irish ministers have refused to meet Sinn Fein since the resumption of the IRA bombing campaign. They refused to meet a delegation from Sinn Fein in Belfast on Monday at the start of the "proximity" talks in Stormont. It was unclear whether Mr McLoughlin was meeting officials in London. Contacts with officials of the London and Dublin governments have been maintained.
Ministers believe the move by Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to meet ministers on Monday was a public relations exercise, designed to win sympathy in the United States, which he will be visiting for the St Patrick's Day celebrations.
Senior ministers are pessimistic about the chances of the ceasefire being restored. They are planning to improve intelligence on the IRA in Ireland, which failed the Government when the bomb was planted at Docklands. But Mr McLoughlin told the MPs he, too, was unaware that the bomb was going to be planted and the ceasefire ended by the IRA.
Ministers believe the IRA is back in the hands of the hard-line terrorists, and that Mr Adams has lost his influence over the gunmen.
The two governments have set 10 June as the deadline for all-party talks following elections. Sinn Fein will be excluded from the negotiations, unless the ceasefire is restored.Reuse content