British Direct Ruler Peter Hain is to press ahead with the formation of an all-party committee at the new shadow assembly to discuss the return of powers from London to Belfast.
However, confusion lingers over the attitude of the DUP to the committee after party leader Ian Paisley repeatedly rejected the concept.
The party now claims to have “pulled the teeth” of the plan, pointing to assurances from Mr Hain that no “negotiations” would take place within the committee.
The watered-down committee will reportedly only identify obstacles to devolution, which will then be passed on to the traditional negotiations process.
A fresh round of these talks is to take place with the North’s political parties in the coming weeks, it was announced on Thursday.
The move was announced by Peter Hain as he also confirmed the first meeting of the committee would take place on June 6th and would focus on preparing for a fresh round of “intensive” negotiations led by the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister.
As Ian Paisley continued to insist “there cannot be another set of negotiations running alongside” the formal peace process, the DUP denied reports that his deputy Peter Robinson had been overruled on the matter.
One DUP MP said: “The real show was always going to be [the parties] with the governments. The idea that a negotiation would take place in this committee was a nonsense.”
Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP has said that his party will judge Peter Hain’s proposal for a committee against the clear criteria that it can lead to the return of the power-sharing Executive.
“Sinn Féin have made it clear that the only reason we are taking part in the Hain Assembly is to deliver a power-sharing Executive,” he said.
“We will judge Peter Hain’s current proposals for a committee against the clear criteria that it can lead to the return of the power-sharing Executive.
“No-one is interested in a powerless talking shop.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin attacked their SDLP rivals for “falling into the trap of engaging in Wendy House politics” in the shadow assembly.
Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said that orior to May 15t there was a strong consensus between Sinn Féin and at least some members of the SDLP that it was a mistake to engage in the Assembly.
But now they were humiliated by being forced to accept “crumbs off the DUP table”.
“This was always the danger,” she said. “That the DUP would try and suck people into their preferred model of a shadow Assembly possibly leading to the corporate type Assembly that they have also mooted. Sinn Féin expended considerable effort earlier this year moving the two governments away from this position that represents a serious dilution of the power-sharing Executive core of the Good Friday Agreement.
“The danger for the SDLP is that they are now encouraging the DUP with the mistaken belief that people are prepared to except less than the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin will defend the agreement. Our sole focus is the election of the First and Deputy First Ministers and power-sharing Executive. This is the only way that we will be able remove power from British direct rule ministers and undo the damage being caused by their bad decisions.”