The DUP today said it was waiting confirmation of talks with Sinn Fein for next week to tackle the impasse threatening the future of devolution.
Sinn Fein has also organised a series of internal consultations, including a meeting of its 27 Assembly members also next week.
But the party says it wants “full and meaningful engagement” with the DUP rather than a face-saving meeting.
Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson said yesterday the earliest date he had been given was the second week in September but today said it was hoped the talks would be brought forward to next week. And it was envisaged they will be at “Ministerial level”, involving First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy FM Martin McGuinness, who is on leave but close to home.
“That’s what we are aiming at. We are waiting for confirmation from Sinn Fein and we will have to see whether that materialises,” the Lagan Valley MP added.
His caution came as it was being increasingly suggested the scheduled date for the next Executive meeting, September 18, is being viewed as an effective deadline to resolve the key issue dividing the parties of the devolution of policing and justice.
But Finance Minister Nigel Dodds warned the “good governance” of Northern Ireland would not be “held to ransom” by Sinn Fein demands, and running to the British and Irish Governments would not work.
“The recent petulant behaviour of Sinn Fein raises serious questions about community confidence. Does Gerry Adams or his friend from the Irish Republic (the party’s Dail leader, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who said Ministers could be pulled from the Executive) seriously believe that threats to destabilise the transaction of Executive business will assist in boosting confidence in the unionist community? It is entirely counter productive,” the North Belfast MP said.
“The DUP has said that we are willing to engage with all parties on a range of issues but we are not in the business of delivering on a republican agenda. And Sinn Fein need to know we will not allow the good governance of Northern Ireland to be held to ransom by a party trying to deliver some party political shopping list.
“The Ministerial Code details the legally binding obligations which all members of the Executive have to abide by. Sinn Fein need to realise that by engaging in, what boils down to, childish tantrums they are actually eroding the same confidence which is necessary for the devolution of policing and justice powers,” Mr Dodds added.
Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Cuilin reiterated, however: “Sinn Fein, along with the DUP, committed to entering a process of intensive dialogue aimed at resolving outstanding issues, including the transfer of power on policing and justice, in Downing Street in early June.
“This process has not materialised satisfactorily, partly because the DUP leader was absent on holidays for much of this period. Martin McGuinness was available throughout the summer to engage in this important work,” said Mr Ni Cuilin.