Sinn Féin has told Tony Blair that under no circumstances will it take part in a powerless ‘shadow’ assembly in Belfast or its committees.
Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said after talks in Downing Street on Monday that his party was prepared to go into government with Ian Paisley tomorrow morning but was “not prepared to go into limbo”.
As British Prime Minister Blair and 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern prepare to unveil plans for restoring some form of talks body in Armagh on Thursday, it is now clear that Sinn Féin will refuse to take part in a scrutiny committee system at Stormont.
Sinn Féin’s Pat Doherty warned that creating “Mickey Mouse work” for a shadow assembly with no real powers is “not the way forward. It would be a costly, undemocratic farce.”
The British and Irish leaders are expected to advocate a two-phase approach to returning some powers from London to Belfast after a four-year hiatus.
It is believed the North’s 108 Assembly members will be recalled in May and given six weeks to form a power-sharing executive featuring the DUP and Sinn Féin.
If, as expected, that proves impossible, the British government is to introduce new legislation changing the rules which govern the Assembly and which will park the body through the combustible summer marching season.
The Assembly would be recalled in September and given what the parties believe will be a November 24 “absolute deadline” to set up the executive.
It is possible that in the interim, Assembly members would be given a “programme of work” at committee level.
A Sinn Féin delegation, including Gerry Adams, Mr McGuinness and Gerry Kelly travelled to London for discussions with Mr Blair on Monday.
Mid-Ulster MP Mr McGuinness said: “Our message to the prime minister is very simple... to effectively lift suspension and restore the political institutions.
“It is our view that the first and sole task of any convened assembly is the formation of a government under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
“And if the DUP are not prepared to cooperate in that endeavour then the two governments effectively have to move on.
“The DUP demand for an assembly with scrutiny committees is totally unacceptable. It is seen by us as an attempt by the DUP to return to unionist domination. We will not consent to such an arrangement.”
Mr McGuinness said both governments had to stick faithfully by the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and decisively move the process on.
Specifically, Mr McGuinness made clear Sinn Féin’s view that new British legislation to permit the Assembly to survive without an Executive beyond the six weeks currently defined in statute - and Assembly committees scrutinising the work of direct rule ministers - would fall “outside the terms of the Good Friday accord”.
Such proposals were “absolutely unacceptable to Sinn Féin” as the largest nationalist party in the North and it would not give its consent.
DUP leader Ian Paisley, who celebrates his 80th birthday on Thursday, also was unhappy. He said he did not believe a multi-party executive could be formed at Stormont and said any attempt to do so should be abandoned.
“I think that to say that they are going to call the Assembly together to try and get the executive set up is absolutely nonsense,” he said.
“They can’t do that. It is not going to happen because the foundation for such a decision is not even laid.
“The foundation, of course, must be the end of terrorism and must be that this is on a solid democratic foundation.
“Now they haven’t done that. So that is not going to work.”
SDLP leader Mark Durkan last night also warned the governments against trying to rewrite key aspects of the Good Friday Agreement to appease the DUP.
He warned the DUP would settle only for being able to declare the agreement a total write-off.