Frustration is growing in the North of Ireland over the ongoing attempts by hardline unionists to obstruct and undermine the peace process.

After three days of deadlock over who should chair a committee tasked with identifying obstacles to progress, the situation was being described by observers as “a farce” and “a mess”.

While Ian Paisley’s DUP blamed by all sides for its intransigence, British Direct Ruler Peter Hain said stalemate was not an option.

“Matters simply cannot rest here,” he said. “Despite the current procedural deadlock, a way has to be found to move forward if the restoration of devolution is to become a reality.”

However, with no clear way forward, Hain was being urged to move to scrap the shadow assembly in Belfast and bring forward proposals for ‘Plan B’.

The fallback plan is being readied for the end of the year if, as is now expected, no progress can be made to restore self-governing powers to Belfast from London. it would see some form of ‘partnership’ government of the Six Counties, jointly between Dublin and London.

The DUP has rejected suggestions that the chairmanship of the committee be rotated, either between the four or five largest parties, or alternatively between the two largest parties. Other options have been explored without result.

Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said the two governments would soon have to take hard decisions on the Assembly and the future direction of the political process in light of the DUP’s blocking tactics.

“The vast majority of parties who support the Good Friday Agreement, who respect democratic mandates and who want to see the political institutions put back in place cannot be expected to be held to ransom while the DUP debate whether or not to come on board,” he said.

“The DUP need to indicate and indicate soon that they are serious about this project. If they continue to set themselves against progress then the two governments are obliged to act.”

“They cannot allow a repeat of the sort of farce the DUP subjected us to this week. If progress towards restoring fully functioning political institutions cannot be made before the end of this month then the two governments should move ahead, close the Assembly and stop the MLA salaries.”

Earlier Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy called on the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to publicly elaborate on their ‘Plan B’ if devolution of powers is not achieved by their November 24th deadline.

Mr Murphy said: “The reality is that if we are to do the business in the autumn, a lot of the preparatory work has to be done now. Given the antics over the past three days over the failure to choose someone to chair this committee, I think not only Sinn Féin but three of the other parties are beginning to doubt if the Democratic Unionist Party is really up for doing what needs to be done.”

“The carrot approach is not working, maybe it is now time to show the stick and spell out clearly what Plan B entails,” Mr. Murphy said.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News