Labour-Sinn Fein deal claim denied
The suggestion that Labour has been discussing a post-election coalition with Sinn Fein was greeted with cries of "absolute rubbish" in the Commons today.
Conservative Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire), a former Northern Ireland minister, referred to a story in The Sun which claims Labour chiefs have held secret talks with the republican party.
He told MPs: "Apparently the Labour Party has been talking to Sinn Fein about a possible link up after the general election."
As he made the comment, shadow Northern Ireland minister Stephen Pound shouted "absolute rubbish" from the front bench.
Later, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis added: "The party opposite seems to be wanting to introduce new protocols into the House, believing everything you read in The Sun and demanding the Labour Party takes responsibility for problems that are clearly the responsibility of the Government."
Sinn Fein has five MPs but they refuse to take their seats in the Commons.
A senior Labour source later confirmed that Ed Miliband met Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness during a recent visit to Northern Ireland, but said their talks related only to the peace process and did not touch on the question of post-election coalitions.
The source said: "We are working towards a Labour majority and we are only working towards a Labour majority.
"Anybody speaking for the Labour Party or with Ed's authority should be doing nothing other than working towards a Labour majority, and I have no evidence that they are."
The source added: "It is untrue that Ed held any sort of coalition talks. The implication that Ed is cosying up to Sinn Fein is untrue.
"On his visit to Northern Ireland, he talked about the peace process and only the peace process. There was no talk about coalition because we are focusing on a Labour majority. There was no talk of cosying up, no talk of coalition.
"We met Martin McGuinness because he is a member of the Northern Ireland Executive, but our talks were about the peace process."
Conservatives sought to capitalise on reports of supposed Labour talks with Sinn Fein by producing a campaign poster featuring Mr Miliband with Gerry Adams and the SNP's Alex Salmond.
Under the strapline Your Worst Nightmare Just Got Even Worse, the poster warned: "The SNP and Sinn Fein propping up Ed Miliband? Chaos for Britain."
Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy (Newry and Armagh) dismissed the story as "pure fiction" and said his party's position in relation to Westminster was well known.
He said: "We work hard in delivering a good service to our voters but we do not take our seats in Westminster.
"We have met with all of the major British political parties in the line of our work as MPs over many years and have made this clear time and time again.
"None of these parties have ever asked us over the course of these meetings to support them on the other side of an election.
"Our position on refusing to take our seats at Westminster has been repeatedly endorsed by our electorate and this remains our position as we face into this year's election."