Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has said he hopes outstanding issues in the peace process can be resolved in time to allow tomorrow’s nomination of the DUP’s Peter Robinson to replace Ian Paisley as First Minister.
Speculation has grown that the nomination procedure could be jeopardised by the long dispute over the DUP’s refusal to honour key elements of the 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement. Among key issues which remain unresolved are the transfer of policing and justice powers from London, legislation to safeguard the rights of Irish language speakers, among others.
The DUP has claimed the right to veto such proposals, leading to a prolonged stalemate in the political institutions on a number of fronts.
Despite the outward appearance of political agreement presented by Mr McGuinness and Mr Paisley over the past year, resentment has grown among nationalists at the DUP’s stranglehold on progress.
A failure to jointly nominate Peter Robinson as First Minister and Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister tomorrow, as required under the legislation underpinning the Belfast Assembly, could spark a week of negotiations and possibly a new Assembly election.
Negotiations are continuing over the deadlock. Responding to reports, Mr McGuinnness said nobody in Sinn Féin was threatening anything.
“What we are dealing with is the need for all sides in this equation to recognise, 18 months on from the St Andrews Agreement, the absolute urgency required to see that agreement fulfilled,” he said.
“Discussions are continuing as we speak. We will continue for as long as it is necessary to see the situation in a fashion that will convince people that there is an urgent desire to have the St Andrews Agreement fulfilled.”
He said his year-long partnership with Mr Paisley since power-sharing was restored in May had laid the ground for stable government and had changed the course of history for the better.
However, Ian Paisley, who is quitting politics at the age of 82, warned that any move to disrupt tomorrow’s handover of political power could see a return to the “bad old days”.
Mr Paisley denied that the DUP had reneged on its commitments.
“There was such a thing as a St Andrews Agreement and there was a triple lock (veto) on St Andrews and the power of putting people into office comes not from votes in the Assembly but the strength of the people in the Assembly and those people are entitled to what the law gives them,” he said.
“Are we going to bring everything to a standstill because people give an interpretation of what happens at St Andrew’s in their way?”
A refusal by Sinn Féin to co-operate with the DUP would be “evil”, he added.