British Prime Minister Tony Blair and 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will reportedly set out a timetable of work on Thursday in the build-up to November 24, the date the North’s politicians must choose between local power-sharing or joint authority by the two governments.
The DUP has been accused by all sides of obstruction and delaying tactics in relation to any efforts to advance negotiations. The party is still refusing to hold direct talks with Sinn Féin, which has urged immediate steps to deal with DUP intransigence.
Mr Blair and Mr Ahern will outline initiatives that need to be progressed, British Direct Ruler Peter Hain said yesterday.
Yesterday Hain and the 26 County foreign affairs minister, Dermot Ahern, had talks at Hillsborough Castle.
Mr Ahern said that from September on he expected the political talks to be conducted “in a hothouse atmosphere” and insisted that London and Dublin would not be swayed from their deadline.
He said: We are somewhat under-whelmed by the progress to date at the talks but the very fact the parties are in talking to the preparation for government committee is something positive itself. Its incumbent on them to move to a new phase and thats part of the reason why the prime ministers will come here.
Both governments are adamant about the November 24 deadline and we expect people to come up to the mark. Ultimately its a matter for them but November 24 is sacrosanct.
Mr Hain said that more and more people wanted to see devolution work, and that thisd was challenging Ian Paisley’s hardline unionist DUP.
That will be the question the DUP in particular confront and the whole of unionism confronts, he said.
Do they want to see their [Assembly members] pack up and go home to another life after midnight on November 24 or do they want them to do their jobs to which they are elected?
Meanwhile, a confidential British document has revealed that the North’s political parties could lose out on millions of pounds in funding if there is a failure to agree to local power-sharing in November. In particular, DUP is set to lose up to three million pounds a year if the cuts are made, losses which could threaten the party’s network of advice centres and offices, according to the document.
It is understood the DUP were behind the leak of the document, which the DUP leader duly blasted.
“Let me make it very clear to the Prime Minister, Secretary of State and all their officials the DUP will never be bought,” said Paisley. “It is absolutely laughable to suggest that we will in any way allow the loss of office allowances and wages to influence our judgement on whether Republicans have met the democratic test for Government.”
Nevertheless, the two premiers were urged by Sinn Féin to confront the DUP and prepare to suspend all salaries and expenses to Assembly members and their offices.
Mr McGuinness said that Thursdays visit by the two premiers marked a critical phase in the peace process.
He warned that the DUP should be forced into constructive political engagement and accused Ian Paisleys party of deliberately obstructing political progress.
There has been no progress, Mr McGuinness said.
We indicated from the beginning that we would participate in the Preparation for Government Committee to explore whether the DUP is serious about engaging. To date there have been no signs of that. We said that we would wait and make our judgment when the six-week period is over. We are still hanging in their to get engagement, but it is not shaping up that way.
Mr McGuinness described this weeks visit by Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern as critical.
The DUP are at odds with all of the parties. Uhe taoiseach and the British prime minister need to clearly indicate that. There is no point in them coming here for another pep talk.
Mr McGuinness said that further obstruction by the DUP should result in the freezing of MLAs salaries and a withdrawal of support for constituency offices.
In the event of no progress towards restoration by the November 24 deadline, the assembly should be abolished, he said.
It is time for the governments to put it up to the DUP. If they fail it augurs very badly for political progress.