Former Sinn Féin publicity director Danny Morrison has weighed in to the quarrel between Sinn Féin and the DUP by warning that tensions could lead to the collapse of the powersharing Northern Assembly.
Mr Morrison is the latest senior republican to warn that relations between the two main parties in the Northern Executive and Assembly are deteriorating to such an extent that they threaten the Stormont institutions. “I hope I am wrong but I suspect that the Assembly could collapse. If unionists are thinking this cannot happen, they should think again,” Mr Morrison said in an article on his website yesterday.
Last week both Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly warned about political "crisis" chiefly flowing from First Minister Peter Robinson's decision to withdraw support for the peace and reconciliation centre at the Maze prison site near Lisburn. He said it could not proceed in the absence of unionist-nationalist consensus.
On Monday Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness upped the ante by stating that if the reconciliation centre did not go ahead then neither would the proposed £300 million (€221 million) public- and private-sector enterprise development at the site, which the two leaders say has the potential to create 5,000 permanent and 2,000 construction jobs.
Mr McGuinness described the peace and reconciliation centre, which features one of the H-blocks, as the “jewel in the crown” of the overall development.
“The anticipated development of the site can only proceed on the basis of the honouring of the commitments that have been made,” he added.
Yesterday Mr Robinson was more nuanced in his attitude to the peace and reconciliation centre, which politicians such as Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister are campaigning against, believing it has the ability to undermine the First Minister.
In Coleraine, Co Derry, Mr Robinson said the reconciliation centre could only happen with "widespread community support". He added that people must be "mature in how they approach the issues and there is no reason why the wider development of the site cannot go ahead".
He said it would be “cruel” of Sinn Féin to “punish the people of Northern Ireland” over the issue: “What politician is going to say we could have created 5,000 jobs and then didn’t?”
Previous conflicts between the DUP and Sinn Féin have led to a form of stasis in the Northern Executive.