DUP warns SF it will trigger crisis if Executive fails to meet this week


THE DUP has warned that if Sinn Féin again blocks a meeting of the Executive on Thursday it will be deliberately triggering a political crisis.

DUP Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson issued his warning after senior Sinn Féin Assembly member John O'Dowd said it was unlikely that the Executive will meet on Thursday as scheduled.

British prime minister Gordon Brown is expected to meet political leaders including First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on a visit to Stormont tomorrow.

That encounter will take place against Thursday's effective deadline for a resolution of the standoff between Sinn Féin and the DUP that has prevented the Northern Executive meeting since mid-June.

Mr Robinson has already warned of serious consequences if the Executive does not convene on Thursday.

The Executive can only meet with the agreement of both Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness, but since June Sinn Féin has used its veto to prevent the Northern Cabinet meeting.

Over the past 11 days Sinn Féin and the DUP have engaged in what one observer described as "intensive" high-level talks aimed at resolving matters such as when policing and justice powers will be devolved to the Executive; the Irish language; education reform; and what will happen to the Maze prison site.

A senior Sinn Féin source said yesterday that no progress was made in these talks, making a meeting of the Executive unlikely on Thursday. "The DUP has not demonstrated any sense of commitment to partnership government," he said.

Mr Donaldson said: "It would be incredible if Sinn Féin prevents a meeting of the Executive on Thursday given the economic problems we are facing such as the huge hikes in electricity and gas prices that were just announced."

There is speculation that Mr Robinson could take legal action against Sinn Féin or invoke the Independent Monitoring Commission, which has a role in this area, to adjudicate on whether Sinn Féin was honouring the pledges of office taken by Mr McGuinness and other Sinn Féin ministers.

Such a situation would also pose serious questions for the British and Irish governments, such as the continuing viability of the Executive, and whether there would be any point in calling fresh Assembly elections.