The Secret IRA Meetings: Categorical denials were carefully worded

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The Independent Online
GOVERNMENT ministers and officials have for more than three weeks repeatedly and emphatically denied reports that the authorities were in touch with Sinn Fein, writes David McKittrick.

But an examination of the denials shows that they were careful to specify that there had been no 'talks or negotiations' with Sinn Fein or the IRA. The Government's position now is that these denials did not cover the systematic exchange of documents which it now admits took place.

Furthermore, the categorical nature of the denials gave the impression that ministers had ruled out any type of contacts with republicans. The tone was set by the Prime Minister who, in a reply to the Labour backbencher Dennis Skinner in the Commons on 1

NOVEMBER, stated: 'If the implication of his remarks is that we should sit down and talk with Mr Adams and the Provisional IRA, I can say only that that would turn my stomach, and those of most honourable members. We will not do it.'

A WEEK LATER, when asked about reports of talks, a Downing Street spokesman said: 'We have made clear on many many occasions that we don't speak to those who carry out or advocate or condone violence.' A Northern Ireland Office spokesman added: 'We have no knowledge of such talks or meetings.'

Sir Patrick, asked in a BBC interview on 16 NOVEMBER whether there had been 'contact with people who could be regarded as emissaries or representatives of the government', replied: 'No, there hasn't. There has been no negotiating with Sinn Fein . . . There has been no talking whatsoever about what is to be a price for the giving up of violence.' In another BBC interview on the same day, Sir Patrick added: 'Nobody has been authorised to talk or negotiate on behalf of the British Government with Sinn Fein. We have always made it clear that there will be no talking or negotiating with Sinn Fein or any other organisation that justifies violence.' On 22 NOVEMBER, Sir Patrick repeated that first sentence.