Sinn Féin backs Assembly committee
Sinn Féin backs Assembly committee

Sinn Fein said today that it would take part in a committee aimed at preparing for local power-sharing government in the North of Ireland.

Sinn Féin said today that it would take part in a committee aimed at preparing for local power-sharing government in the North of Ireland.

The party challenged Ian Paisley’s DUP to participate on the committee at a leadership level amid conflicting signals from the hardline unionist party.

Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness said his party’s decision was in line with its policy of taking part in Assembly business aimed at securing the restoration of political institutions under the Good Friday Agreement.

“All of this, I think, represents a real challenge for all of the political parties attending these meetings - not least for the Democratic Unionist party,” he said.

“There is a real opportunity for them to engage with Sinn Féin and others around the real work of preparing for government.

“Now they will either take that opportunity - and if they do I think much progress can be made - but if they don`t then we have to move on.

“I think this is going to be a very critical period in the course of the weeks ahead because certainly from my prospective as someone who is very much involved in this process, this period will tell the tale as to whether the DUP are serious about joining with the rest of us to put in place the political institutions which will be of huge benefit, I believe, with every single person - man, woman and child - in our communities.”

The DUP and the nationalist SDLP have still to reveal whether they will take part, amid continued wrangling over the details of the committee.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP and, to a lesser extent, the Ulster Unionist Party complained that British Direct Ruler Peter Hain had capitulated to DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley in restricting the role of this committee.

This body could help to set the agenda for the political negotiations that the 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are due to hold with the political parties at the end of June.

Dr Paisley insisted last week that the DUP would not be a part of any committee that would involve face-to-face talks with Sinn Féin after DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson initially appearing comfortable with the proposal.

Martin McGuinness, complained at the weekend that the DUP was causing a “tremendous amount of confusion” over the issue. “They have big decisions to make and we as much as anybody else are very keen to hear if they are going to move forward with us to bring about the restoration of these institutions,” he said.

“At the minute the soundings coming from the DUP are not that encouraging and I think that has caused great confusion,” Mr McGuinness told BBC Radio.

He said that the Dublin and London governments and the parties should move on without the DUP if it was not prepared to engage properly with the other parties in seeking to restore devolution.

It remains unclear whether the Assembly will convene again before the planned summer recess following the rejection by the DUP of the

“If it becomes clear to us by the end of June that the DUP are not prepared to play their part, then our message to the two governments will be very clear: close the Assembly,” said Mr McGuinness.

SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell said yesterday that his party would support any motion that moved the political situation forward, but that he had concerns about “conflicting messages” being sent by Mr Hain about the role of the committee.

“If Peter Hain sustains his private assurances to us that the committee will scope out the obstacles to the restoration of devolution, then we would be broadly favourable to the committee. But we need assurances that he will abandon his efforts to pander to Paisley,” added Dr McDonnell.

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