Bertie Ahern: Sinn Féin and DUP should resolve their differences
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has issued a clear ultimatum to DUP leader Arlene Foster, saying last-ditch talks with the rival party to prevent an election will only be successful if she fully steps aside by next Monday, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent.
The senior republican outlined the situation in a private meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Dublin today in which he broke with his party's previous position to say he is now willing to hold talks with the DUP to prevent the collapse of the Stormont government.
Speaking on RTE's Six One News programme, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he met with Mr Adams and Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald at Government Buildings in Dublin, in addition to holding phone calls with Martin McGuinness and Ms Foster.
He said that during the discussions "Sinn Féin have confirmed to me that they would be willing to accept an invitation to talks" with the DUP first made by Ms Foster on Tuesday, adding that Mr McGuinness "would be willing to attend that meeting".
Mr Kenny said both the Irish and British governments will "give any support we can" in order to facilitate the meetings during the "limited window", pointing to the fact Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan is already due to hold a series of meetings in Belfast on Thursday.
However, a senior Sinn Féin official told the Irish Examiner that while the party is now open to speaking with the DUP, it remains of the view that the only way to prevent an election is if Ms Foster agrees to fully step aside by next Monday.
The nuanced situation comes after Ms Foster offered on Tuesday to hold immediate talks with Sinn Féin and to open an investigation into the €563m renewable heat incentive scandal in a bid to salvage the Stormont government, but insisted she will not step aside during this process.
Within an hour of the offer being made on Tuesday, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald rejected the request outright, accusing Ms Foster of "living in a state of denial" over her role in the affair.
The position was re-iterated by Sinn Féin MLA and Northern Ireland health minister Michelle O Neill (below), who told reporters in Belfast this morning that her party is "not interested" in further talks.
However, contradicting the previous position during a press conference at the same time in Dublin, Mr Adams said "that's not my understanding, we're always open for talks, of course we are".
The subtle shift in Sinn Féin's position has been seen by some as confirmation that an election - which must be called by Monday at 5pm unless the party appoints a successor to Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister - could still be avoided.
However, others have suggested the move is instead an attempt by Sinn Féin - which has called a meeting of its potential candidates for this Sunday - to appear willing to find a solution despite the widespread expectation its demand for Ms Foster to step aside will not be accepted by the DUP.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan (above) has said all parties must "find any way to avoid the automatic triggering of elections next week", warning the current situation is "grave" for the future of power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland secretary of state James Brokenshire (below) made similar comments, saying there is "a high probability we're moving towards an election" and that he is "concerned" about the "divisive" issues it may raise.
Speaking on RTE Radio's Today with Sean O Rourke programme, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern - who was closely involved in securing the peace process - said Sinn Féin and the DUP should resolve their differences.
Citing comments from Ms Foster that recent days show power-sharing arrangements between nationalists and unionists do not work, he said: "That would be read as going back to unionist rule, that kind of language is dangerous."