Cameron defends no10 garden drinks reception for DUP MPs

John Manley Political Reporter

BRITISH prime minister David Cameron has been forced to defend a private meeting with DUP MPs ahead of a possible hung parliament where their support for the tories could be crucial.

According to reports, Mr Cameron hosted a lavish reception for the party's eight Westminster representatives and leader Peter Robinson in the Downing street garden on April 30 -- the night Gerry Adams was arrested. The tory strategy has echoes of John Major's accommodation of the Ulster Unionist demands in the post-cease-fire mid-1990s. The DUP has insisted the get-together was an opportunity to discuss compensation from Libya for IRA victims. However, the party did confirm that the prime minister "also kindly provided some hospitality for our MPs".

"As the fourth biggest party at Westminster and being very active in the work of parliament, we maintain good relationships with all the parties in Westminster and meet with them both formally and informally very regularly," a spokesman said.

"that is part of the important role of our MPs as they stand up for Northern Ireland, ensure our voice is heard in

parliament and seek to use their influence to keep Northern Ireland moving forward."

Commenting on the Downing street garden get-together, Mr Cameron said it was "right to talk" to other political parties. The Conservative leader described the event as an "offshoot" of the meeting about Libyan compensation.

"it is only right the prime minister talks to other groups and parties in parliament," he said.

"i was having a meeting with leading DUPs to discuss trying to win from the Libyans some compensation for the fact that Libyan semtex, given to them by Colonel Gaddafi, is still being used in Northern Ireland. The drinks we had were an offshoot from that meeting."

But Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said hosting the DUP MPs in the Downing street garden raised concerns about Mr Cameron's "stewardship of the peace process".

"today's admission that British prime minister David Cameron has been holding private meetings with the DUP raises serious questions about his lacklustre stewardship of the peace process," he said.

"David Cameron has failed to meet the Sinn Fein leadership on a range of serious issues, which have had a destabilising effect on the political process." The deputy first minister said the tory leader was "cosying up to the DUP with an eye on the next British elections" and that this helped explain the British government's "increasingly partisan role".

"David Cameron's government has failed to embrace the Haass proposals on flags, parading and the past, despite support for the proposals from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance, the Irish government and the Us administration," he said.

"His secretary of state in the north has adopted the intransigent pro-unionist position of refusing to deal with the issue of killings carried out by British state forces and the loyalist death squads run by their intelligence services."

Mr McGuinness said it was "imperative" that Mr Cameron met him and Gerry Adams as soon as possible.


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