Nominations to the Belfast Assembly executive will not take place by Monday’s ‘deadline’ following a resolution of the DUP’s ruling council, reports have indicated.
Amid intense and conflicting speculation and spin, other reports have suggested that nominations could take place, but only on the basis that the institutions would be immediately suspended for at least two months.
The DUP have not made public the resolution, which was passed at a high-profile meeting today. The meeting, which broke up at 3pm, was seen as critical if devolved power-sharing is to be restored to the North of Ireland.
However, it is clear that Ian Paisley is still not ready to endorse power-sharing ahead of Monday’s deadline, dealing a potentially serious blow to the political process.
Emerging from the meeting, DUP leader Ian Paisley said the executive had passed the resolution overwhelmingly but insisted it would not be released until later once negotiations were concluded.
“We in Ulster are at a serious state because we have had a dictation from the Government about things that people resent,” the North Antrim MP said surrounded by senior party figures.
“They are not going to be driven and I think we are going to have to leave it there.
“We will be delivering to you later on the full content of the resolution and I think as the hours proceed you will have a closer conception and perception of what we are after.”
DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said over 90% of the executive had passed the resolution.
“We have as a result of the resolution further work to do and that is the reason why we are not releasing it at this stage,” he said.
Some reports indicated the British government plans to introduce emergency legislation to suspend the Assembly for six weeks to allow further negotiations.
Other reports -- apparently originating from Ulster Unionist party leader Reg Empey -- have indicated that nominations to the Executive might take place, but would be immediately followed by an eight-week suspension without a meeting of the Executive.
There has been no word today from the British government on whether they will stick to their stated deadline, or yield once again to unionist pressure.
Previous statements had stressed their intention to turn to a still-undivulged ‘Plan B’, understood to outline plans for some type of joint administration of the North by both Dublin and London.
However, 26-County Minister for Foreign Affairs has said this afternoon that if the DUP refuses to share power with Sinn Féin, ‘Plan B’ is ready to kick in.
Dermot Ahern - who was speaking at his party’s annual conference in Dublin - still refused to reveal the exact nature of the contingency plan.
The Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams, is to meet with British Direct Ruler Peter Hain, at Hillsborough Castle later today. He was in contact with Tony Blair this morning.
Mr Adams has briefed the party’s leadership on ongoing developments and has returned to Belfast to meet with the Sinn Féin negotiating team.
The Sinn Féin leader said: “Sinn Féin has remained in contact with Downing Street over the last 24 hours and earlier this morning I spoke directly with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“There have been concerns in recent days as we approach Monday’s deadline that some within the DUP and the British system have become unsettled.”