Sinn Féin has alleged that secret talks have been taking place aimed at excluding the party from a restored power-sharing administration in the North.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan has confirmed his party is now willing to consider alternative political arrangements to replace an inclusive Ministerial executive.

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy accused their nationalist rivals of secretly engaging in private talks with unionists ahead of all-party negotiations, due to begin early next month.

“I understand that the SDLP have been engaged in discussions with unionists on the basis of arrangements outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement,” said Mr Murphy.

“This is disappointing.

“Nine months ago the SDLP put forward proposals which involved scrapping the power sharing executive and replacing it with administrators, appointed by the governments, to run the various government departments.

“This was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now.

“Power-sharing and inclusivity are at the core of the Agreement. This is what was agreed by the parties and endorsed in referendum by the vast majority of the people in referenda north and south.

However, the SDLP has denied the claims. Sean Farren, the party’s senior negotiator, insisted that for his party the goal was still the full implementation and working of the agreement.

Mr Farren insisted that the SDLP had held no meetings with the DUP since November, but allowed that the party met Reg Empey’s Ulster Unionist Party last week for “an exchange of views.”

“We explained our concerns. We weren’t negotiating,” said Mr Farren.

“This is an attempt by Sinn Féin to distract from the current difficulties.”


Meanwhile, the DUP has again insisted it will not take part in a power-sharing executive with Sinn Féin “for the foreseeable future” and is instead to put forward proposals for “phased devolution”.

These will be put to British Prime Minister Tony Blair by DUP leader Ian Paisley at a meeting in London scheduled for tomorrow.

It is understood the DUP plan may involve an Assembly and committees operating and approving legislation as a first stage.

At a press briefing, the DUP was asked how long the ‘foreseeable future’ would be and if it would take one, two or even five years or more to share power with Sinn Féin if the IRA disappeared.

Deputy leader Peter Robinson said it should not be considered against a calender.

“We don’t consider it in those terms at all,” he said.

“We consider it on the basis of when the circumstances are right to move forward. We consider what the conditions are in the country.

“When the conditions are right then you can move to a different form of devolution. They aren’t right at the present time.”

Sinn Féin’s Pat Doherty said the DUP was seeking to “subvert” the Good Friday Agreement, and this was a challenge to the two governments,” Mr Doherty said.

“They have an obligation to stand by the Agreement and its power-sharing core.

“This includes the power-sharing executive.

“Sinn Féin will not countenance a move away from the fundamental principles which underpin the Agreement.”

Highlighting the ongoing impact of direct rule, Mr Doherty said this had been caused by Ian Paisley’s refusal “to share power with nationalists and republicans on the basis of equality and respect”.

“The DUP cannot be allowed to continue to block forward movement towards the re-establishment of the political institutions. Republicans have delivered on every commitment given. It is now time for others to do likewise.

“But let me make it very clear to the DUP and the two governments -- Sinn Féin will not countenance agreeing to anything less than the provisions demanded by the Good Friday Agreement.”

Meanwhile, UUP leader Reg Empey said yesterday it was time to end political bluffing over devolution and recall the Assembly. Under the legislation, the recalled Assembly would be required to reach an agreement within six weeks or face further suspension or a new election.

“We have had eight years since the Belfast agreement came into operation and this assembly has been in on-off mode - mostly off mode - since that time,” said Empey.

“People are fed up with that. I think the time has come to call everybody’s bluff and to reconvene this place as soon as possible and let the clock run.”

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