Now or never
Now or never

Martin McGuinness has said Sinn Fein has fulfilled its obligations in government and is now insisting unionists and the two government do the same to avoid a political crisis.

His comments came ahead of a crunch meeting with DUP leader Peter Robinson over the hardline unionist party’s refusal to implement the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

In the end the meeting only lasted thirty minutes. Shortly after this, the 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown decided to fly from London to Belfast to join the talks at Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast, where discussions are continuing.

Mr Cowen and Mr Brown began a meeting with the two parties at 5pm. It is understood Mr Brown is unlikely to be able to remain in the North beyond this evening.

Before they departed Downing Street, both Mr Brown and Mr Cowen made reassuring and cautiously optimistic statements for the assembled media.

However, Sinn Fein’s patience with the process appeared to collapse on Friday following three years of failed efforts to share power with the DUP and an apparently dismissive approach by scandal-hit DUP leader Peter Robinson.

Over the weekend, Sinn Fein declared that the talks with the DUP had ended before holding out the possibility of progress at today’s [Monday’s] final ‘critical and defining’ engagement.

The key disagreements remain the DUP’s stalling on the transfer of policing and justice powers and demands by the Protestant Orange Order for the abolition of the Parades Commission.

Mr McGuinness claimed that, while his party had backed new policing structures after the 2006 St Andrews agreement which paved the way for power-sharing, the DUP had yet to fulfil its commitments.

“Within three months of the St Andrews agreement we in Sinn Fein moved forward decisively on the issue of policing, took what was considered to be an historic and monumental decision,” he said.

“And we did that within three months of St Andrews... to ensure that these institutions would work.

“Three years on, three years on, we are waiting for the DUP to deliver and honour their commitments, that all of us were supposed to have signed up to under the terms of an agreement that was presided over by the Irish Government and the British government.”

The former IRA commander who stunned hardline republicans when he described members of the breakaway ‘Real IRA’ as “traitors” last March, said he had worked hard to form an effective political partnership, first with the former DUP leader Ian Paisley, and then Peter Robinson.

“From the very beginning of this process... I have been at pains to make this place work,” he said.

“It’s been my life’s work over the course of recent times because I passionately believe in power-sharing, passionately believe in all-Ireland institutions and passionately believe in working in a positive and constructive mood with all of the people that I come in contact with.”

He added: “Unfortunately, we have learned that there are people within these institutions who only see the future through the prism of one section of the community - that is not a sustainable way to move forward and I am not going to be part of that.”

Mr McGuinness, flanked by Sinn Fein colleagues including party president Gerry Adams, said: “I respect the mandate of Peter Robinson. I respected Ian Paisley’s mandate. It is now time for them to respect ours.”

In the absence of any agreement, Martin McGuinness is likely to resign as Deputy First Minister. In that scenario, Assembly elections would have to be called after seven days and held within seven weeks.

  • We will continue to bring updates today on any breaking developments from the talks in Belfast.

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