Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has said a political deal to secure power-sharing by March 26 is close and that the British government can “smell” a breakthrough.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown had separate meetings last week with DUP leader Ian Paisley and later with Mr Adams. Part of the negotiations centred on a financial package which would support the new Six-County administration.
“A British government will always be reluctant to give as much as it should,” Mr Adams said.
“But at the same time I do think that this British government, they know - they can smell it - that this could be the real breakthrough after all the conflict, after all the false dawns.
“Whatever about the fiscal amounts involved, there certainly is a realisation there that this could be it.”
Mr Adams said he had made clear that the package should be a “dividend for peace” but detailed figures had not been discussed.
On water charges in particular, he said, it had been made clear to Mr Brown that London should pay for historic failures to invest in the north of Ireland.
British Direct Ruler Peter Hain said the Crown treasury would not “stand in the way” of the process.
“I agree that an incoming executive will have to have a good financial package. The chancellor is very aware of that and, indeed, will not want to stand in the way of a successful devolution on March 26,” he said.
DODDS SAYS NO
However, DUP MP Nigel Dodds rejected Mr Hain’s assertion that the choice on March 26th lies between “devolution” or “dissolution” [of the Assembly] and that any future attempt to restore power-sharing could take years and would require fresh elections.
Dismissing this as “nonsense” and “classic hardball”, Mr Dodds cited the legal precedent set by Mr Hain himself in creating the “transitional Assembly” that paved the way for last week’s election.
“The DUP is in no way fazed or intimidated by the [British] line and this talk of a new election,” he asserted. “We know it’s nonsense, they know it’s nonsense, and they should just get on with delivery.”
In a historic move in January, Sinn Féin moved to support the British PSNI police. While unionists are demanding further “delivery”, Mr Adams’s appeal for the public to assist the PSNI in the double murder in Belfast this week -- blamed by the PSNI on republicans -- was a timely counter to DUP challenges over the party’s position on republican informers.
The DUP executive is to meet later this week to decide whether to comply with the March 26th deadline. Some DUP MPs are understood to be pressing for a longer “decontamination” period in order to “test” Sinn Féin. They claim Sinn Féin has still to show its intention to help defeat breakaway republican groups.
DUP hardliners got some support from former British Direct Ruler Peter Mandelson this week, when he accused Tony Blair of agreeing to a “Sinn Féin shopping list” which had pushed unionists “off the table”.
He said he had refused to sign a letter in 2001 containing a deal on weapons decommissioning as his intelligence indicated that it was not necessary, and he accused Blair of repeatedly dangling “carrots and possibilities” before Sinn Féin negotiators which “could never be delivered”.
Sinn Féin’s deputy first minister designate, Martin McGuinness, who is currently in Washington, said that, despite continuing tensions, Ian Paisley was ready to take the position of First Minister next Monday week.
“I think as time has moved on that Ian Paisley himself has come to realise that there really isn’t much point in allowing that date to slip,” he said at a breakfast.
“I think that all of the mood music in the course of the last week or so has been good and I think that there is increasing optimism and hope that powersharing and all-Ireland institutions will be in place by the 26th of March. And if that happens, then obviously everybody has crossed the Rubicon.”