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Claims that Conservatives have invited Martin McGuinness to speak to this autumn's Party Conference are wrong

Owen Paterson 2010 By Paul Goodman

The Irish Times proclaims this morning: "Tories invite McGuinness to speak at party conference".  The story details, as one would expect of the paper, are entirely accurate.  The headline, however, is not.  It could be read to suggest that McGuinness has been asked - who knows, by the Northern Ireland Secretary himself, or perhaps by the Prime Minister - to speak to the party faithful from the same platform from which Margaret Thatcher once addressed them.  The same Margaret Thatcher that the IRA tried to kill at Brighton when McGuinness was a senior member of it, with the same bomb that murdered five people and crippled Margaret Tebbit.

The story goes on to deflate the expectations that its headline raises.  It points out that McGuinness will appear as Northern Ireland's Second Minister on the same platform as Peter Robinson, its First Minister, and that they'll appear not on the Conference stage but at a breakfast organised by a not-for-profit organisation.  It's right to report that the occasion is a fringe event - but of course some such events are less part of the official fringe than others.  There's nothing the Party can do to prevent people holding meetings in a city at the same time that its annual conference is being held there.  The Irish Times asks whether the meeting in question will be held outside the Conference secure zone.

Senior sources claim that it won't be, that the only political parties entitled to Conference passes this year are Conservatives and "our Ulster Unionist allies", and that - above all - the invitation did not, repeat not, come from the Party, but from the organisation in question.  The most striking element of the story is the claim that "the decision to invite Mr McGuinness is understood to be backed strongly by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson, though senior Conservatives are worried about the reaction of some MPs and the wider party organisation".  One source that I spoke to said that "we should never forget the horrific consequences of the past" but that "none the less, the Conservative Party as a whole has got to come to terms with the present".


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