Blair defends Adams meeting

Mr Adams is concerned about sanctions

Tony Blair has defended his decision to meet Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams at his country residence at Chequers.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the prime minister was asked if he was going to spell out what sanctions would be introduced against Sinn Fein.

It follows the chief constable's assessment that the IRA was involved in the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery.

Mr Blair said he would make clear to Sinn Fein at Thursday's meeting the need for exclusively peaceful means.

This was the only way to secure a political role in Northern Ireland, he said.

"If it proves impossible to go forward on that inclusive basis we will have to look for another way forward; it is as simple as that," he said during Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Blair defended the meeting with Mr Adams, and added: "It is important that message is delivered and delivered in a very, very straightforward way."

'Multi-million pound package'

On Monday, the Sinn Fein president said he remained concerned sanctions would be imposed on his party.

The IRA has denied involvement in the Northern Bank robbery last month.

Mr Adams said no-one should assume the governments had abandoned the notion of sanctioning Sinn Fein.

Mr Blair will meet the Sinn Fein leader on Thursday

Questioned in the Commons on Wednesday about reports that his chief of staff Jonathan Powell was discussing a multi-million pound package with the UDA, Mr Blair told MPs no such negotiation was taking place.

"It's important that we continue to strive to take this forward on an inclusive basis but... it cannot be the case, and frankly time is running out for this decision to be made by those who are connected with paramilitary groups, any longer that there is a process of transition here.

"People have to decide: they are either part of the democratic process or they are not. That moment of decision has long since passed and it has simply got to be clear whether people have made their decision or not."

DUP leader Ian Paisley spoke to both prime ministers on Wednesday.

"There can be no question of the talks process that was brought to an end by Sinn Fein/IRA being renewed," he said.

"We are now in a completely different situation and I have told both governments that they have an obligation to serve an ultimatum on IRA/Sinn Fein to cease immediately from their terrorist and criminal activity and to prove so by their deeds."

Mr Blair is expected to hold talks with Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern next Tuesday.

The meeting with Mr Adams will take place at Chequers on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Mr Ahern has told Sinn Fein members of the Irish Parliament he found it offensive that the IRA was able to turn on and off paramiltary-style beatings "as it suited their political agenda".

In heated exchanges on Wednesday, he later detailed recent attacks for which the IRA was believed to have been responsible.

Mr Ahern also told the house that the white van used in the Northern Bank robbery had moved through the Republic of Ireland, but was stolen outside the state.

He said the van was a special type.

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