DUP leader Ian Paisley is increasingly at the centre of a political battle over a possible deal to revive the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
This week, he attacked the 26-County Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, for questioning his party’s commitment to power-sharing.
Paisley said the DUP would not sign up for any “ragbag” deal. In a traditional Paisley outburst, the veteran unionist hardliner said Mr Ahern’s comments indicated “bad faith” and that it was time the Dublin government “faced up to its responsibilities and stood shoulder to shoulder with those who are demanding an end to terrorist and criminal activity”.
He went on: “The Irish Government must remember and realise that unionists will not be lectured about the internal workings of Northern Ireland. These are not issues for Dublin. There are just two words for Mr Ahern - heal thyself!”
Amid renewed speculation of divisions within the DUP, there have been veiled suggestions that Dr Paisley now remains the only obstacle to a historic deal involving both the DUP and the IRA.
Dublin and London have reportedly told the DUP that the IRA has made its firmest commitment yet to disarm and end activity. Democratic Unionists, however, are understood to be holding out for what are considered unreasonable demands for a “visual aspect” to disarmament.
Talks are continuing, but the two governments are surely keen to scoop up all that was demanded from the Provisional IRA in recent years -- an “act of completion” which would mark the end its role in the conflict in the North of Ireland.
Sinn Féin president Mr Gerry Adams, returning from the US yesterday, said the “DUP must understand, and the governments must make it clear, that the refusal by Ian Paisley to reach agreement with the rest of us cannot stop the process of change”.
Mr Gerry Adams was speaking after a meeting with President George Bush’s special envoy, Dr Mitchell Reiss.
The West Belfast MP said the DUP had to realise the “new political reality” that equality and all-Ireland institutions, which were supported by the electorate, would not be negotiated away.
“The impasse at this time in the talks process is the DUP’s failure to accept the fundamentals of the Good Friday agreement and their failure to accept nationalists and republicans on the basis of equality,” Mr Adams alleged.
“In particular, they have targeted the power sharing and all-Ireland principles of the agreement. The core issues were negotiated and agreed in the Good Friday agreement,” he stated.
“There will be no going back on these positions. That is the new political reality which the DUP has to come to terms with. The pro-Agreement majority cannot be expected to stand still while the DUP edge their way into the 21st century.”
There was no official US comment after Wendesday’s meeting.
The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said earlier this week it would be tragic if no progress were made within the next two weeks. He warned that prospects for progress could be put off until 2006 if current opportunities were not grasped.