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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

DUP wants a "testing period" before entering power-sharing executive with Sinn Féin

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

The DUP has refused to enter a power-sharing executive by tomorrow's deadline. Ian Paisley's party has hinted it may instead be prepared to hold its first-ever face-to-face talks with Sinn Féin if the date for nominating ministers to a Stormont administration is delayed until May.

Last night the DUP leadership was continuing to negotiate the details with Tony Blair after a five-hour meeting of the party's 120-strong executive. A motion passed at the meeting effectively rejected the governments' Monday deadline for the establishment of a power-sharing executive. Since the deadline is written into law, breaking it requires the passage of emergency legislation tomorrow morning in the House of Commons.

If the DUP's proposal is accepted, today will mark the beginning of a "testing period" of Sinn Féin's recent commitment to policing and law and order. It will also mean a renewed round of negotiations with the British government for increased funds to renew Northern Ireland's infrastructure and to subsidise the new parliament. Paisley's party also wants an exclusion mechanism by which Sinn Féin, or any other party, can be thrown out of government if it breaches the terms of a ministerial pledge to uphold the forces of law and order. It is likely that the Independent Monitoring Commission, which adjudicates on the state of the paramilitary ceasefires, would have a role in this respect. The British government must decide over the weekend whether to accede to the DUP's demands in the hope of power-sharing finally becoming a reality in May. Much will depend on the response from Sinn Féin. Last night Downing Street sources said it was up to the Northern Ireland parties to achieve consensus on the way forward.

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, last night demanded tha the assembly be dissolved and that the DUP talk directly to Sinn Féin if it wanted to see devolution restored. He said that if the DUP want to enter into government "this can only happen through direct dialogue and agreement with Sinn Féin and the other parties".

The DUP's decision to break the deadline is not unexpected. Paisley has repeatedly dismissed government timetables for devolution as irrelevant and, even as he left Downing Street after talks last Friday, insisted he needed more from both the prime minister and Sinn Féin.

March 25, 2007
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This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on March 25, 2007.

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