PM 'wanted voluntary coalition'

SDLP leader Mark Durkan opposes sanctions against Sinn Fein.

Tony Blair tried to persuade the SDLP to enter a voluntary coalition without Sinn Fein, Mark Durkan has said.

Following the Independent Monitoring Commission report on the Northern Bank raid, unionists urged the government to move ahead without Sinn Fein.

However, the idea of a coalition without republicans, favoured by both unionists and the Alliance Party, has always been stymied by SDLP opposition.

A Downing Street spokesman said the government had to explore all options.

He added that did not mean the government had chosen one.

Mr Durkan, the party leader, has reiterated his opposition to sanctions against Sinn Fein.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics on Saturday, he said the prime minister tried to persuade him to enter a voluntary coalition in a meeting in Downing Street at the end of January.

"He pressed and pushed us very strongly in the direction of voluntary coalition, exclusion, call it what you will," said Mr Durkan.

"And he was quite prepared to accept those terms as being interchangeable as well."

The comments co-incide with the SDLP's annual conference which is being held in Londonderry on Saturday.

It is to discuss a motion rejecting voluntary coalition and an assembly with diminished powers.

Gerry Conlon will be guest speaker at a session devoted to justice and policing.

Mr Conlon's family secured an apology from the prime minister on Wednesday over their wrongful conviction for the Guildford and Woolwich bombings.

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