Political representatives from Sinn Féin and the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party have taken part in talks to advance the peace process on the island of Sri Lanka.
Eleven Tamil negotiators are in Ireland, including S P Tamilselvan, a former member of the paramilitary Tamil Tigers group and now a political leader. The Tamil Tigers is observing a 19-month ceasefire, but peace efforts have made little headway.
The group met Martin Ferris and Aengus O Snodaigh, two Sinn Féin TDs, on Thursday in the party's parliamentary offices in Dublin. Later they met David Ervine, leader of the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist party.
O Snodaigh said: ``One of the topics we discussed was the issue of prisoners and how things can be progressed towards a normalisation of society through confidence-building measures.
``They were particularly interested in how republicans have succeeded in maintaining unity in all parts of the movement as we moved forward with the peace process.''
The visit of the Tamil team was facilitated by the Department of Foreign Affairs after an approach by the Sri Lankan government. The group is negotiating with the Sri Lankans on proposed autonomy for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island, which lies off the coast of India.
Tamilselvan said: ``Conflict resolution varies very much from country to country but, while here, we have been able to obtain valuable information from the experiences of Irish groups on how to conduct the difficult negotiation processes.
``It is the first time in the history of our movement's struggle that we have had the opportunity to meet with Northern Irish representatives from both sides. We have found it very worthwhile and hope contact can be maintained.''