Sinn Féin has said the Dublin Government must oppose any attempt to formally reintroduce direct rule in the North in crisis talks in southern England later this week.
The Six Counties have been governed directly by British ministers following the suspension of the short-lived Stormont Assembly almost two years ago.
But British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy warned at the weekend that failure to reach an accord in the talks this week could lead to the formal end of efforts to restore the devolved power-sharing administration in Belfast.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams insisted this week that his party will not tolerate any proposals that detract from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He rejected various proposals to amend the agreement tabled by Ian Paisley’s DUP at talks in Belfast in the past two weeks.
The Sinn Féin position is sharply at odds with that of the DUP, now the dominant unionist party in the North, who are insisting that the still unimplemented agreement be renegotiated. The party has refused to engage in direct talks with Sinn Féin without an end to all IRA activity.
The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has described this week’s hothouse talks at the picturesque Leeds Castle as “decision time” and there have been suggestions that “alternatives” such as joint authority might be considered if no agreement is found.
However, Mr Adams has stated his “firm belief” that agreement is possible “but that requires that the other parties, and particularly the DUP, also come at the discussion with a sense of what is possible.
“Despite DUP posturing, the reality is that the majority of the electorate is pro-agreement; all of the parties in these discussions, with the sole exception of the DUP, regard themselves as pro-agreement; the Irish Government is pro-agreement; and the British government professes, also, to be pro-agreement.
“The DUP represents the anti-agreement minority of the electorate. The logic of all of this is that, if there is to be an agreement involving the DUP and the other parties then the DUP will have to abandon its rejectionist policy and move away from positions which are designed to destroy the fundamental principles of the agreement.
“Whether the DUP will do this remains to be seen. But let me be clear. There will no erosion of the core elements, principles and safeguards of the Good Friday agreement.”
The ultra-hardline DUP leader, Ian Paisley, is understood to be making his way to the talks venue in Kent despite continuing reports of his ill-health. DUP sources have suggested that any possible deal is still some time away.
Meanwhile, speculation has mounted over a possible IRA move to disarm following the return to Ireland of Canadian General John de Chastelain, head of the international arms decommissioning body. The DUP has demanded that the IRA disarm fully and disband as a precondition of a new agreement.
Sinn Féin chairman Mr Mitchel McLaughlin said outside a meeting of the party’s leadership on Saturday that nothing was ruled out at the talks, including IRA disbandment.
“We are up for a comprehensive and definitive package that deals with all of the outstanding issues, including those issues that have fixated, or, if you like, transfixed unionism up to this point in time,” he said
Asked if such issues included the disbandment of the IRA, he said: “I have to say, without being facetious, what part of comprehensive do you not understand?”