Sinn Féin has said it is not willing to take part in an Assembly if there is no prospect of having an Executive up and running by the summer.
Speaking to journalists in Dublin yesterday, ahead of a meeting with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Government Ministers on Thursday, Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said the two governments should scrap the Assembly in the summer if Ian Paisley’s DUP are still refusing to agree to the election of the first and deputy first ministers and the Executive.
Mr Ahern is expected to meet British prime minister Tony Blair in Armagh on April 6th when they will publish the British and Irish governments plans to reactivate the Assembly.
On Sunday, British Direct Ruler Peter Hain said the political process was reaching “a crunch time”.
Mr Hain said plans to “bridge the gap” between unionists who want a “shadow” assembly stripped of powers and nationalists who oppose this would be announced within weeks.
He warned the gate “at the end of that bridge” would either “open to devolved government” -- with powers being returned from London to Belfast -- or close, meaning political allowances and salaries would stop.
Reports indicate that the Assembly is to be brought back prior to the summer to provide a sense of political progress ahead of the combustible Protestant marching season. After six weeks, the Assembly would be suspended in order to avoid a fresh election, described this week by the British government as “a get-out clause”.
New legislation would the be introduced over the summer to lay the framework for a committee-based forum, to meet at Stormont, which would provide input for British Ministers and allow wages to continue to be paid to northern politicians. It has also been proposed that, in the event that no agreement is reached on power-sharing, the forum would be scrapped.
Yesterday Mr McGuinness reiterated Sinn Féin’s opposition to such a move in strong terms, saying he did not believe “there can be any halfway house between a DUP ‘no’ position in the summer and a DUP ‘no’ position in the autumn”.
“The reality is that the DUP is now isolated in some never-never land and the sooner the governments effectively tell, not just the DUP but everybody else that the only way forward is the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the better,” he said.
His party’s position was for the governments to reconvene the Assembly before the summer, and “make the effort to elect the first minister and the deputy first minister and the Executive”.
“If the DUP are not prepared to play their part in all of that, then the two governments should just get on with it. The Assembly should effectively be abolished, the wages should be stopped and the two governments should press on with the all-Ireland agenda.”
“Let Ian Paisley explain that to the unionist people because we know there are huge numbers of unionists in northern Ireland who want to see these institutions up as quickly as possible.”
He said Sinn Féin was prepared to examine the proposals the governments would make next week, but indicated that if they were similar to the proposals of a few weeks ago for the establishment of a shadow Executive, they would be rejected.
“We will look at whatever the governments have put forward but there’s no sort of sensible reason for coming forward with a repackaged proposal from the one that you saw and that’s been rejected a few weeks ago. So we’re not for a shadow Assembly simply because it’s not going to work,” said Mr McGuinness.