Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has told the new British Direct Ruler that he must now move forward on an “agenda of change” without further delay.
Peter Hain, also the secretary of state for Wales, said he would have a direct, hands-on role in trying to bring devolution back permanently to the North and cement the peace process.
After a walk around Belfast city centre, Mr Hain held meetings with political leaders.
Mr Adams pointed out that, despite the stalemate over the DUP’s refusal to hold meetings with his party, that key elements of the Good Friday Agreement do not require co-operation from the DUP.
“Progress on equality, human rights, collusion, the Irish language, demilitarisation, justice and policing are entirely within the gift of the British government,” he said. “There is an increased onus on the British government to face up to the many issues within its control.”
Mr Hain met several shoppers in the city centre on the traditional ‘walkabout’ of new Direct Rulers. He insisted the post had not been downgraded.
He said: “The Prime Minister made it clear that he will keep a very hands-on approach to the whole process for securing peace and building the institutions.
“It is very, very important to him and it is important to the whole of the government.
“‘It’s an absolute priority,’ he told me when he appointed me on Friday night.
“[The Prime Minister’s chief of staff] Jonathan Powell’s involvement is also crucial to that but I intend to take myself a very direct, leading role in this alongside the Prime Minister and we will work together in partnership.”
Meanwhile, Mr Blair himself said he believes an agreement can still be concluded which will lead to the restoration of powersharing.
Mr Blair said yesterday a deal between Sinn Féin and the DUP was possible .
During his first news conference since the election, Mr Blair paid tribute to outgoing Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who lost his seat at Westminster.
“I think that what David Trimble did in Northern Ireland was immensely brave and I hope very much that that is recognised when people do a historical analysis of this,” he said.
Turning to the prospects for agreement given the new political landscape after the Westminster election, he added: “I have got to work with the outcome the electorate has given. I am still actually very hopeful that we can resolve it. I think sometimes with the interplay of the different unionist parties it’s been very unclear who exactly is going to end up on top, but I think that when it became apparent that the UUP couldn’t make the deal with Sinn Féin the DUP gained from that.”
He added: “Now I hope the DUP are prepared to share power provided there is a clear, unequivocal and complete giving up of violence, and if there isn’t I will be left in the same position again.”