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Sunday, February 22, 1998 Published at 02:49 GMT


Sinn Fein asks to meet Blair
image: [ Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams (right) and Martin McGuinness ]
Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams (right) and Martin McGuinness

Sinn Fein has asked to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair before deciding whether to return to the Northern Ireland peace talks.

The party has hinted that it might not be back at the negotiating table in March because the talks have "lost credibility".

It is suspended until March 11 following two murders blamed on the IRA.

And Friday night's 500lb car bomb in the village of Moira in County Down, Northern Ireland, which injured 11 people, has increased doubt over Sinn Fein's future in the talks.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who is set to meet the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern next week, insists the IRA ceasefire is still in force.

Mr Blair has yet to agree to a meeting with Sinn Fein and faces an angry response from unionist politicians if he does so.

[ image: Gary McMichael:
Gary McMichael: "Sinn Fein should not meet Tony Blair"
Gary McMichael, leader of the loyalist Ulster Democratic Party, which will return to the talks process on Monday after also being temporarily expelled, has urged Mr Blair to turn down a meeting with Sinn Fein.

No organisation has admitted carrying out the bombing attack.

But security sources said on Saturday night that it was probably the work of the Continuity IRA (CIRA), a splinter faction of the Irish Republican Army.

[ image: Mo Mowlam, keeping an open mind]
Mo Mowlam, keeping an open mind
Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam said she was keeping an open mind on who carried out the Moira bombing. She said she wanted to know the full facts.

"One of the problems we have in Northern Ireland is the number of groups who are not committed to the ceasefire who in fact are intent on destroying it," said Dr Mowlam.

Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, raised the prospect that his party might not come back to the peace negotiations because of anger among its supporters.

"The reality is we have not decided to return to the talks. We may go back. Yes, that's a possibility ... because the talks have lost credibility over the events of recent weeks."

[ image: The Moira bomb shattered a normally peaceful town]
The Moira bomb shattered a normally peaceful town
Mr McGuinness restated his belief that the IRA ceasefire was still in tact.

But Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who lives in Moira, said most people in the town were convinced Friday night's explosion was the work of the IRA.


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