In an unusual move, the 26 County foreign minister Micheal Martin has intervened in the political process in the North to urge the DUP to complete the devolution of policing and justice powers.
His comments were welcomed by Sinn Fein, which is becoming increasing concerned about the ongoing political stalemate in the North in the run-up to the next British general election.
The recent intervention of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the visit to Belfast of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month both failed to encourage the DUP to act.
However, the comments by Mr Martin indicate that the coalition government in Dublin is again concerned by the dangers of a full-blown political crisis in Belfast.
“Many of the preparations for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont are well advanced,” Mr Martin told senators in the Dublin parliament.
The financial package already agreed by the parties “provides a robust basis to move forward”, he said, stressing the importance of the “full and effective implementation” of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Solutions about contentious parades could not be demanded as a prerequisite for progress in other areas, he added.
“Parades need to be addressed in a mutually respectful way, acknowledging the importance of the interlocking issues of rights and responsibilities on all sides,” he said.
“Solutions cannot be imposed or dictated and should not be demanded as a prerequisite for progress in other areas of the agreement.
“Nor can they can they be presented as a win for one community over the other.”
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams welcomed the remarks.
“The government, along with the British government, is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement,” Mr Adams said.
“Given the record of the British government and particularly of British secretary of State’s, and the failure to press for the full implementation of aspects of these agreements, the responsibility of the Irish government is fundamental and indispensable.
“I welcome this intervention by Minister Martin. His statement outlines the progress which has been made and this is substantial and very significant.
“It also outlines areas where more work needs to be done.
“I look to the Irish Government to raise these issues with the British government on a consistent and on-going and strategic way.”
However, electoral concerns are coming increasingly to the fore in the North, with the DUP apparently anticipating a pro-union Conservative Party government in London next May and the subsequent return of unionist majority rule in the Six Counties.
The Ulster Unionists and the nationalist SDLP remain focussed on offering voters a possible alternative to the current deadlocked administration in Belfast, while today, in a solo run, the tiny unionist Alliance Party issued its own preconditions for supporting any new policing agreement.
SF ‘NOT IMPOTENT’
Meanwhile, a senior Sinn Fein official has accused the DUP and British government of engaging in brinkmanship.
Declan Kearney, head of the party’s ‘think tank’, said unionist and British government tactics on policing have the potential to push the current impasse into “complete free-fall”.
His comments appeared in an internal Sinn Fein newsletter this week.
He said that the DUP and British government were still not “learning the political lessons”, making the “mistaken assumption” that Sinn Fein was so committed to the Six County administration that it no longer possessed any effective political leverage.
Mr Kearney said republicans were following what he described as “a national trajectory” and the Six County institutions were only of value if they deliver on the terms previously agreed.
Speaking to the mainstream media, Sinn Fein junior minister Gerry Kelly played down the comments and said there was no threat to collapse the Executive.
“We are not suggesting that at all,” he said.
But he added that Mr Kearney was articulating Sinn Fein frustration with the DUP’s attitude to sharing power.
“What you are looking at with policing and justice is what the DUP’s attitude to power sharing is. They have not fully grasped the idea that this is a joint office.
“Within the Office of First and Deputy First Minister, they continually demand what they want.
“The DUP, instead of showing leadership, are looking over their shoulder at Jim Allister who seems to be preventing them following the deal through.
“On the other hand they are playing into the hands of these so-called dissidents when I think the best message is policing and justice in the hands of people here.”