FG TDs urge Bruton to lift ban on SF


THE Taoiseach has been urged by Fine Gael backbencher, Ms Mary Flaherty, to lift the ban on Ministerial meetings with Sinn Fein.

At yesterday's Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, a number of other members also told Mr Bruton that the grassroots were demanding dialogue at all levels so that a return to violence could be averted.

"Views were expressed that there should be immediate political contact with Sinn Fein in addition to the meetings involving Government officials. Women in the parliamentary party insisted that absolutely every avenue should be explored, including meetings with Sinn Fein," one source said.

During the debate, Mr Bruton described how the unionist parties showed extreme stubbornness in their attitude to the peace process and that the British Prime Minister, Mr Major, would have great difficulty in delivering them.

Party sources said Mr Bruton also criticised Mr Major and his government for their slowness. They could have moved more quickly, he said. However, he added that the two governments now had to try to retrieve the process.

Following a number of critical reports in the media of his handling of the peace process, Mr Bruton outlined how it had progressed under his stewardship and said he would do everything possible to ensure it continued despite the IRA's return to violence.

Dealing with the Government ban on Ministerial meetings with Sinn Fein, he indicated that talking to it might be interpreted as legitimising the IRA and lead to a loyalist backlash. Sources in Fine Gael said rumours abounded that the loyalists intended to attack the Republic and direct communications between the Government and Sinn Fein in the context of the London bombings could spark off an attack.

Expressing deep unease at the impact of the IRA bombing campaign, Mr Bruton is also believed to have told TDs and Senators that the day the Mitchell report was published, Mr Major had effectively dropped the Washington Three demand that arms be decommissioned prior to all party talks. The parliamentary party interpreted this as a major achievement, the sources said.

The Taoiseach also suggested that he had convinced a number of British Conservative Partybackbenchers, including Mr Andrew Hunter, chairman of the party's backbench committee on Northern Ireland, of the merits of proximity talks.

However, the London bombings had seriously damaged efforts towards all party talks. The immediate task was to see the reinstatement of the ceasefire and a move to inclusive dialogue.

The parliamentary party meeting was adjourned until next Wednesday when the Taoiseach is expected to reply to the points raised at yesterday's meeting.