The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the 26-County Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, met again in London today [Monday] for talks on the deadlock over the devolution of policing and justice powers to Belfast.
Speaking after the meeting, the two said they would hold more talks next week and that they would remain upbeat.
However, Mr Brown ruled out imposing a deadline on the discussions amid concern that the stalemate could soon reach a breaking point.
Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who accuses the DUP of breaching agreements on the issue, warned again on Saturday that a deal must be reached by Christmas if a crisis is to be avoided.
Mr McGuinness said that the DUP had broken the St Andrews Agreement by not agreeing a date for these powers to be transferred.
Last week, the DUP and Sinn Fein had separate meetings with British PM Gordon Brown against a background of growing distrust between the two parties.
“Quite clearly the DUP are in default,” Mr McGuinness said. He said that if the DUP “continue to fail” then the British government needs to make it clear “the consequences” that will follow from that.
Mr McGuinness did not spell out what he meant by “the consequences”, but pressure has been growing on his party to pull out of the Northern Executive. The failure of the British government to deliver a number of key reforms promised in the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements continues to rankle with the party’s grassroots.
As tension increased yesterday, key Sinn Fein strategist and national chairman Declan Kearney told a republican commemoration in Dunloy, County Antrim: “In recent weeks all the evidence indicates the DUP have no intention to support the transfer of policing and justice powers.
“Absolutely nothing suggests this position will change.
“Their continued intransigence is a serious political mistake. It is a train-wreck political strategy and political consequences will be inevitable.
“All of this demonstrates that the impasse over policing and justice is about something deeper than a transfer of powers.
“Its about whether political unionism is prepared to co-exist with republicans in equality and partnership.”
DUP leader Peter Robinson has claimed he supports devolving law and order powers to the assembly but insisted he wants measures to “boost public confidence” in place first. This would include the abolition of the Parades Commission, a highly controversial step which could set the scene for increased conflict over the summer marching season.
Mr Robinson also repeated this weekend his party’s preference for scrapping the power-sharing structures at the heart of the Stormont administration. Sinn Fein said the proposal amounted to a return of unionist majority rule.
“The current political impasse is seriously deteriorating because of the role of NIQ figures [from the British government’s Northern Ireland Office] who remain wedded to an anti-republican and pro-unionist agenda,” said Mr Kearney yesterday.
“Last week Peter Robinson asserted that the DUP will not walk away from the political institutions.
“The question is not whether the DUP will walk away. The really urgent and immediate question is whether the DUP can stay within the institutions and commit to equality and partnership.
“The DUP needs to make its mind up now.
“The fact is that political institutions which fail to protect and deliver equality for all citizens are of no political value to anyone.”