Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said his party is determined to do everything it can to get the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement up and running in Belfast before the November 24th deadline.
The West Belfast MP met the 26-County Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and senior ministers for 80-minute talks yesterday ahead of three days of intensive multi-party discussions in Scotland, beginning on Wednesday.
Despite the continuing refusal of Ian Paisley’s hardline DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) to hold direct dialogue with his party about sharing power in the North, Mr Adams said he believes that it is now “game on” for a historic devolution deal.
“There are big expectations. I can see it in my own constituency,” he said.
He added: “In fairness to the DUP, they do have challenges. They do have problems that they have to address. But let’s go forward with goodwill and let’s go forward to make this happen.”
Sinn Féin also expressed concerns that Dublin’s focus on the peace process may have been distracted by recent problems within the coalition government between Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats (PDs).
Mr Adams said: “There may be concerns out there that the Government may be unfocused and let’s hope that that isn’t the case, because there is no more important work than what is coming up.”
He also noted that Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) were in complete agreement over the need for a peace fund from the British government to inject cash into the economy, as well as health and social services in local communities.
British Direct Ruler Peter Hain has already set out the effective agenda for the talks in St Andrews.
Mr Hain has writeen to party leaders outlining the main areas for negotiation and listing possible legislation that may need to be speedily implemented should the parties strike agreement.
The two key areas for agreement are Sinn Féin support for the PSNI police and DUP support for the long-suspended political institutions.
Mr Hain said that Wednesday’s positive Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report on IRA activity should provide a constructive mood for the talks which Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Tony Blair will chair, beginning tomorrow.
“The IMC’s report provides a very vivid reminder of just how much progress has been made over the last three years to end paramilitary activity. The decisive conclusions of the IMC, particularly in relation to the end of the IRA’s campaign, are an important context for our discussions,” he said.
It is being reported that a deal which would require Sinn Féin and the DUP to make commitments respectively on policing and power-sharing by November 24th, although it would be beyond this date, and possibly 2007, when these commitments would be realised.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair believes there are no issues of principle remaining in the way of a powersharing settlement in the North, and that “sequencing” is key to success in this week’s negotiations in Scotland.
The British prime minister is reportedly satisfied that it is now only a question of how and when the DUP agrees to form an Executive with Sinn Féin and, likewise, “how and when” Sinn Féin accepts the PSNI.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said it would be “difficult to overestimate the importance” of the talks in St Andrews, starting tomorrow. “This is it,” said the spokesman, hailing “an opportunity this week which may not come again in the foreseeable future”.