Sinn Fein in talks at Stormont of spacey

The saga of whether and when Government ministers will finally meet Sinn Fein took another turn yesterday with the revelation that republicans had gone to Stormont for an unscheduled meeting with officials, writes David McKittrick.

The meeting was requested by Martin McGuinness, a senior Sinn Fein member, in an attempt to resolve the issues that have prevented his meeting ministers.

The Government was represented by a senior Northern Ireland Office official, Quentin Thomas. Afterwards both sides were non-committal as to what progress, if any, had been made.

The signs were that the two sides had intended to hold the meeting without publicity, butnews of the encounter was revealed by Downing Street.

The difficulties centre on the form of words to be placed on the agenda for talks with ministers. The Government is seeking an explicit reference to the decommissioning of terrorist weaponry, while the republican preference is to talk about overall demilitarisation. Most observers assume the holding of such talks is simply a matter of time, and that acceptable wording will soon be found.