An attempt by the London and Dublin governments to form a Belfast Assembly with significantly reduced powers is meeting strong resistance from northern nationalists.
Some reports indicate that the plan has already been shelved as Sinn Fein and the SDLP both poured cold water on the plans.
Following a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams cast doubt on whether the new forum would work.
26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were expected to unveil a ‘roadmap’ that unionists and nationalists believe would call for the establishment of a shadow assembly with a target date for full devolution of powers from London to Belfast.
A major announcement next Wednesday intended as a short-term measure to fill the political vacuum created by the failure to implement the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is not now expected to go ahead.
In an indication of fresh concern by the Sinn Fein leadership at the current direction of the peace process, Mr Adams told reporters that his party would play no part in the proposed forum.
Speaking in London, Mr Adams called the recall of the Stormont Assembly, saying it was an outrage that it had not met in two-and-a-half years.
“Our view is that the suspension of the assembly should be lifted,” he said.
“Quite quickly after that the mechanism to have an executive elected should be triggered.”
The Assembly, set up in 1998, was suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of an “IRA spy ring” at the Assembly buildings. Although the allegations were disproven following the outing of a high-level informer within Sinn Fein, the two governments have refused to recall the Asssembly in the face of opposition from Ian Paisley’s DUP.
Instead of “pandering to the DUP”, Mr Adams said the two governments “should give the DUP a choice - between power-sharing, and the equality agenda, the resumption of inter-governmentalism and the full implementation of all other aspects of the Good Friday agreement”.
Mr Adams said the onus was on London and Dublin “to show that the process of change” would continue.
“The optimum is still power-sharing, with Ian Paisley as first minister,” he said. “But if he [ Dr Paisley] doesn’t want that, he’s a consenting adult.”
Asked if he was seeking to pressurise the DUP, Mr Adams said: “The governments would make a mistake if they think we’re negotiating on this. It would be to ignore the stresses on the republican project.”
Mr Adams said soon after Mr Blair reinstated the Assembly, the mechanism to appoint an Executive should be triggered. In the event of a failure to appoint an Executive, existing legislation calls for fresh elections to be held to the Assembly within a six week period.
Of the proposed alternative, Mr Adams said: “We’re not against a shadow Assembly because we’re bloody-minded but because it won’t work. .. There is no possibility of the DUP coming on board if they are being pandered to ... We won’t be part of it.
“They [ the two governments] would just be tearing the Good Friday agreement up. It cannot work unless we acquiesce, and we won’t.”
The Taoiseach said he planned inclusive proposals in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement but that he and Mr Blair could not wait for ever for all parties to sign up.
“If we can’t bring everybody with us, then we have to make a call and move on,” said Mr Ahern.
“I’d still like to bring everybody with us but we can’t wait around indefinitely.”
However, SDLP leader Mark Durkan also described plans for a new forum as a “political misadventure”.
Speaking after talks with Mr Ahern in Dublin, he said his party opposed any attempt to legislate for aspects of an abortive 2004 deal which collapsed over DUP demands for the humiliation of the Provisional IRA.
Mr Durkan also called for a strict deadline for power-sharing so that political parties could deliver on their mandates.
“If a date is set for restoration, parties would find themselves inside institutions with legal powers vested in them and they will have to show if they are up for it or not.
“Unless parties are faced with a definite deadline by which they have responsibility for decisions they make, parties will continue to use more delay, shadow-boxing and posturing.”