The Dublin and London governments are being urged to spell out their plans in the apparently likely event of political parties in the North missing the November deadline for a deal.
Sinn Féin general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin made the call after British Direct Ruler Peter Hain indicated that he would severely reduce the number of assembly departments if political deadlock endured until November 24.
And in the latest move to prepare for the change, members of the shadow ‘Hain Assembly’ have been urged to begin making any staff redundancy arrangements in advance of the November deadline, when the assembly faces being scrapped.
The two governments have suggested deep cross-border reforms -- including some ‘partnership’ government arrangements between Dublin and London -- will replace the institutional aspects of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in the event of the expected refusal of the DUP to negotiate an agreement.
With the DUP still refusing to hold direct talks with what it calls “Sinn Féin/IRA”, most observers expect this ‘Plan B’ to be set in motion by the two governments before the end of the year.
Mr McLaughlin blamed the DUP for repeatedly stalling on political progress.
“I think it is incumbent on the two governments to indicate how they would respond if the DUP continues to refuse to form an executive by the November deadline.
“It would be wrong to describe such an event as ‘a failure to form an executive’ because that implies all the other parties are at fault when it is just the DUP,” he said.
“In refusing to meet the deadline, the DUP should do so in the full knowledge of what the consequences are.
“So yes, I think the governments should make public their plans in advance of the November deadline.”
In the latest hitch in peace efforts, Ian Paisley’s DUP is refusing to participate in two special Assembly subcommittees designed to help return power-sharing to Belfast. The move marks the latest indication that the DUP is unlikely to agree to any deal before the deadline of November 24th set by the Dublin and London governments.
Mr Hain said that the number of departments in the North should be dramatically reduced of power-sharing is not achieved. He said he would make the cuts himself if no new assembly was formed, pointing to possible cost savings.
There are 11 devolved government departments, each with its own Direct Ruler Minister from Britain. Mr Hain said the number could be cut to six or seven in line with a recent reduction in the number of council areas in the Six Counties.
Meanwhile, letters have been sent to all 108 assembly members stressing the implications for their support workers whose jobs are under threat from the closure.
An angry DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson described it as attempted bribery.
“If the Secretary of State is to remove Assembly members salaries that’s one thing.
“But denying their staff members salaries and closing down constituency offices is not the way to build a stable political process.”
POLICING AT ISSUE
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly has pointed out that the vast majority of nationalists and republicans believe that the issue of policing remained an unresolved matter.
The party’s spokesman on policing was responding to an extraordinary appeal from Peter Hain for Sinn Féin to encourage republican communities to accept the PSNI as their police force.
Despite some reforms following from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, nationalists still have little or no faith in a force with a history of violence and human rights abuses against their community.
“Sinn Féin have set out very clearly the issues which remain to be resolved,” said Mr Kelly.
“The core issue is the transfer of powers away from securocrats in London and the NIO and into the hands of democratically elected politicians in Ireland. We have set out publicly the core of what is needed.
“These are essentially political issues which could be resolved by political parties and the governments quickly if the political will existed.
“The obstacle to this is the DUP refusal to discuss this issue or to be involved in the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Peter Hain should concentrate the minds of the British government on convincing the DUP that there is no other way to advance the peace and political process outside of the GFA institutions.
“Sinn Féin want to see an acceptable policing service delivered. That is why we made policing a central part of the political negotiations.
“We remain determined to build on the progress we have made in recent years and we are committed to delivering the genuinely accountable and acceptable policing service demanded by the Agreement,” said Mr Kelly.