Page last updated at 06:29 GMT, Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Sinn Fein/DUP in 'secret talks'

Jonathan Powell
Jonathan Powell made the claims in his new book

A former aide to Tony Blair has claimed there was a secret back-channel between the DUP and Sinn Fein dating back to 2004.

Jonathan Powell, a former No 10 chief of staff, said a journalist was used as an intermediary between the parties.

He made the claim in his new book Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland.

However, the DUP's Gregory Campbell said there was "no contact whatsoever" before the St Andrew's talks.

"We were in contact with the government, I presume Sinn Fein were in contact with the government," Mr Campbell said.

"It could well be the case that the government played intermediary, but he's going much further than that, he's suggesting that there was direct back-channel contact between us and Sinn Fein, which there wasn't."

In an interview with the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, about his new book, Mr Powell declined to comment on the personalities involved.

However, he said they included elected representatives and that the talks were helpful.

Political deal

Mr Powell likened the back-channel to the secret talks between the British government and the IRA.

Sinn Fein has declined to comment on the book's contents.

Mr Powell also claimed in his book that Tony Blair offered to hold secret meetings with masked IRA leaders to try to save the Northern Ireland peace process.

He said the ex-prime minister wanted to have talks with the IRA's so-called army council to persuade them to disarm and sign up to the political deal.

Mr Powell, 51, served as Mr Blair's chief of staff from 1995 until he left Downing Street last year.

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