Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuiness this morning rejected claims the North's power-sharing Executive could collapse amid a political stalemate in the peace process.
The Stormont parties have failed to agree welfare reforms that threaten a £1 billion cut in the North’s budget, and there are also continuing divisions about how to deal with the past.
“I don’t accept that there’s any inevitability about the power-sharing Executive collapsing,” Mr McGuinness told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland. “There is no alternative to power-sharing and the all-Ireland institutions. There is absolutely no alternative to the Good Friday Agreement.
“What we need to see is the Good Friday Agreement implemented, and of course the British government have a major responsibility to deliver on things like the human rights bill, to deliver on things like the Pat Finucane inquiry.
British prime minister David Cameron said at the weekend he did not believe there was a political crisis in Northern Ireland, but accepted that power-sharing at Stormont has problems.
In an interview with BBC NI, he said: “It is very difficult to make these devolved institutions work when you have parties that have been so opposed to each other in the past working together.
“I frankly think that the first minister and deputy first minister work hard at their relationship and they are doing the right thing by governing together. I wouldn’t call it [A CRISIS]but clearly there are a lot of difficulties to overcome.”
Mr McGuinness said the parties in the North were in broad agreement on a range of issues but that matters relating to the past “need to be dealt with”.
"Last week myself and Peter Robinson sat down with our senior civil servants and we went through our programme for government commitments, and we're well on our way to reaching over 80 per cent of them, so many many many positive decisions are being taken," he said.
“The big difficulty is that over the course of the last two years we have seen huge problems in relation to the whole issue of parades, flags, symbols and emblems. The whole issue of the past needs to be dealt with.
“I think the challenge we face is finding solutions to those problems, and we in Sinn Féin are very determined to play our part in these upcoming talks, and be as positive and constructive as we have been over the course of the past 20 years.
“Of course we have an added difficulty, and the added difficulty is the British government’s approach to all of this is a major part of the problem. The British government didn’t sign up for the Haas proposals and of course the British government welfare cuts and austerity measures are creating huge difficulty for our administration.”
The North’s first minister Peter Robinson said earlier this month that the power-sharing Stormont Executive was “no longer fit for purpose” and all-embracing talks were required to try to break the deadlock.
He added that the impasse between, in particular, the DUP and Sinn Féin over welfare reform could bring down the Executive.
“It’s strange that you quote Peter Robinson because Peter’s party and the Ulster Unionist Party are the two parties who refused to sign up for the Haas proposals even though the Ulster unionists said 24 hours before the deadline that we were 90 per cent there,” said Mr McGuinness.
“There is a big danger when people, particularly in Dublin, commentate on these matters. I think there’s a danger that whenever people in Dublin commentate on what’s happening in the North that everybody’s to blame for the failure to find a way forward on things like the past, flags, symbols, emblems and that whole issue of parades.
“We signed up for Haas proposals. The unionist parties did not. Now that’s the big challenge that we face over the course of the next while, to get a breakthrough on those issues.”