The first meeting of the programme for government committee takes place in Belfast tomorrow despite a continuing boycott by DUP leader Ian Paisley.

The committee had been postponed after Mr Paisley declined to attend because Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams would be present. Deputy leader Peter Robinson will lead the DUP delegation tomorrow.

However, the DUP does not regard Monday’s meeting as a ‘face-to-face’ with Sinn Féin and believe it should not be interpreted as such. The party has always refused to hold direct talks with republicans.

In the run-up to March 26 -- the next theoretical deadline in the St Andrews process -- the committee is tasked with discussing a range of issues including the key issue of when policing and justice powers should be devolved.

They instead see this as an extension of the work of the preparation for government committee which had been meeting since before the summer.

Following DUP objections, the British government has accepted there will be no formal nomination of Mr Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness as first and deputy first ministers respectively.

Instead, there will simply be some indication that their names will go forward at a later date.

Mr Paisley said last week that the designation of the first and deputy first ministers can only take place after the election and after Sinn Féin has vowed to “be subject to the law of the security forces, the forces of the Crown, the police and also of those who adjudicate justice”.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has said the party’s focus is on restoring the power-sharing and all-Ireland political institutions so that they can deal with the issues that are impacting adversely on people in their daily lives.

Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said yesterday that he would be joining colleagues Gerry Adams and Michelle Gildernew in the talks.

“There is a lot of work still to be done and I hope that this long overdue engagement will be genuine and that progress can be made on all of the outstanding issues without unnecessary delay. Nationalists and republicans will be watching what happens within this committee very carefully.”

Mr. McGuinness said nationalists and republicans “won’t be unnerved” by intemperate language from some within the DUP.

“People see that the process is edging forward and that more progress can still be made, even in the run up to November 24th when it is expected that myself and Ian Paisley will be put forward by our respective parties.”

On Saturday, DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said his party would not be rushed by government deadlines, and that there would be no formal designation of shadow first and deputy first ministers on November 24th.

But speaking on BBC radio he insisted the political process was moving in the right direction.

“I expect that what we’re talking about is a qualified intention to proceed when all the conditions are in place,” Mr Robinson said.

“I think we are making progress and it’s clear we made progress at St Andrews, we’ve made further progress since St Andrews and there is further work to be done.”

However, it is believed DUP will not vote for legislation implementing the St Andrews proposals, because of concerns about its timetable and the method of electing the first and deputy-first ministers.

It is being reported that the party’s MPs will vote in favour of the bill at its second reading in London on Tuesday, indicating that they support its underlying principles. But they will not vote for it to be enacted on the crucial third reading, without key changes.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News