East Derry MP rejects talks claim

East Derry MP Gregory Campbell has rubbished a US embassy cable stating that the DUP and Sinn Fein were in talks three years before they agreed to share power at Stormont.

Classified documents published by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks state that the two parties were engaged in “substantive, direct contact” as early as 2004 - a time when the DUP very publicly refused to talk to Sinn Fein.

The US cables date from July 2004 to November 2006 and refer to various exchanges between the unionist and republican parties.

But the DUP has always insisted that there was no contact whatsoever with Sinn Fein before the parties finally agreed to share power in 2007.

Mr Campbell said this week that the information in the US embassy dispatches was simply “not true”. He added that he had no knowledge “whatsoever” of any discussions with the republican party prior to the powersharing agreement.

And he challenged those who published the documents to reveal who exactly took part in the alleged engagements between the parties.

“These reports have been out before and I just wish that people would go further than they have gone thus far and name the people they are talking about.

“If people have learned that there were secret discussions then let us know the names of the people allegedly involved.

“Let them spell out who they are talking about. Where was it, who was it with and what were the circumstances?”

The cables disclose:

• Frustration at DUP reluctance to hold face-to-face discussions with Sinn Fein in 2006 — described as a “regression” from two years earlier when there had been “substantive, direct contact”.

• Claims there had been “over 30 instances of quiet contact” between the parties during negotiations in December 2004.

• Detailed plans for secret “proximity talks” in London which would involve senior government officials shuttling between party representatives.

The contact is said to have taken place in late 2004 - before the £26m Northern Bank raid and murder of Robert McCartney.

While there has long been speculation of secret discussions, the documents released this week provide the strongest evidence yet of direct contact between the two parties before 2007.

Sinn Fein declined to comment on the claims.