DUBLIN (Reuters) – Northern Ireland’s largest nationalist party Sinn Fein will oppose any extension to next week’s deadline to form a new government and any attempt to return to direct British rule of the province, its president Gerry Adams said on Wednesday.
A deal before the deadline is possible, he said.
Northern Ireland’s main nationalist and unionist parties were given until March 27 to form a power-sharing government following snap elections earlier this month, or risk decision-making being taken back to London for the first time since 2007.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny raised the prospect on Tuesday that more time could be given if they cannot meet the deadline. Britain’s government has not proposed an extension and Adams said Sinn Fein was against such a move.
“There cannot be continuous negotiation and re-negotiation of agreements already made. So Sinn Fein is opposed to any extension of Monday’s deadline or a return to British Direct Rule,” Adams said in a speech.
“It is possible for agreement to be reached in the coming days. I and others spent today at Stormont (Northern Ireland’s Assembly) trying to find a resolution to the outstanding issues.”
The March 2 election saw Sinn Fein surge to within one seat of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and deny pro-British unionist politicians a majority in the regional assembly for the first time since Ireland was partitioned in 1921.
Among its demands for re-entering government, Sinn Fein insists it will not vote for DUP leader Arlene Foster as First Minister until the scandal that triggered the poll — a botched heating subsidies scheme she established — is cleared up.
Foster has resisted those calls, saying she is not prepared to step aside temporarily while a public inquiry that could take six to 12 months is held.
Sinn Fein resumed negotiations on Wednesday following the death of former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who will be buried on Thursday.
“We will bury our friend Martin McGuinness tomorrow and move directly from his graveside to urgently do our utmost to get the Executive and the Assembly restored and working,” Adams said.
“The election pointed the way forward. Unionist rule failed and ended. Direct Rule failed and ended.”
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Catherine Evans)