Sinn Fein insists it won't let Stormont collapse as row over Gerry Adams remarks grows
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has been accused of being "reckless and irresponsible" over remarks he was reported to have made suggesting the party would allow Stormont to collapse rather than implement welfare reform.
A senior party figure said that reports on comments by the party president in the US were "disengenuous".
Alex Maskey, who chairs the Stormont committee overseeing the long-stalled benefits upheaval, insisted: "Gerry Adams is not suggesting for one second that we are happy to let the institutions collapse. We are working very hard to keep them afloat.
"Why would we want to hand over any power back to a British minister who may fly in and out one or two days a week?"
The reassurance did not prevent SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell attacking the reported remarks made in in New York.
Warning Mr Adams' stark assessment could only further destabilise the political process, the South Belfast MP said: "No party and no individual should threaten our institutions. It wasn't that long ago that Sinn Fein and their party president endorsed that view when unionist dissatisfaction threatened the Assembly and the Executive."
Referring to DUP leader Peter Robinson's withdrawal from the Maze Conflict Resolution Centre last year, he added: "Now, however, Gerry Adams is following the poor example of Peter Robinson by sending threats from America.
"We cannot underestimate the scale of the challenges facing us.
"Welfare reform and the crisis in public finances have become more acute and must be dealt with responsibly and co-operatively.
"Bringing down the Executive will achieve absolutely nothing except weaken or damage the Good Friday Agreement.
"It will only force a period of direct rule, during which the British Government will enforce the worst excesses of the cuts agenda."
His warning came after Finance Minister Simon Hamilton claimed Sinn Fein "refused" to allow a paper dealing with serious financial pressures facing Stormont to be tabled on Thursday.
He reiterated that Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had backed out of a deal on welfare reform.
Mr Adams is reported to have said: "It isn't that we want an election but if some of the parties in the North are going to follow this agenda, then let them bring it on to the floor of the Assembly and give the people their say."
He was speaking on the fringes of the annual meeting of Bill Clinton's charitable foundation. Mr Adams said he would not like to speculate on whether the Executive would collapse over the dispute.
In the aftermath of Scotland's rejection of independence, Prime Minister David Cameron had committed to devolving more powers to the regions.
"The party's position is that we should unite as an Executive at telling the British Government that we are not going to impose these cuts," the Louth TD said.
"The North is a very small economy", he added, and said cutting a large amount of resources would be "very, very negative".
He insisted: "They don't take any account at all of the fact that we are a community which is coming out of conflict and it is mostly the poor working-class areas that have suffered the most."