On Tuesday, he held talks with Ulster Unionist party leader David Trimble and the SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, hoping to break the political deadlock in Belfast.
Before Christmas, Trimble had walked out of roundtable talks at Stormont, saying the British government had broken its word on excluding Sinn Fein if there was proof of continuing IRA recruiting, targeting and weapons importation. This week he stressed his case for the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the power-sharing government.
The year has begun with anti-Good Friday agreement unionists on the attack, demanding more from the IRA, including public decommissioning of all its weapons. Some are demanding the filming of acts of destruction of IRA weapons.
Hardline unionists have warned the rescue mission aimed at restoring the Stormont power-sharing government is doomed unless the IRA disbands. The Ulster Unionist Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, said: “The unionist community has lost all confidence in this process. The only way this will work is if the republican movement disbands.” Trimble has been careful to avoid the word “disbandment.”
Donaldson also said: “The [British] government needs to know that if they bring in Adams and Company in the current circumstances, unionists will walk out.”
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness’s, meanwhile, said all parties, including his own, must “face up” to their responsibilities.
“We absolutely believe there is a window of opportunity over the course of the next five or six weeks,” he said. “I don’t know what the IRA are prepared to do. They have been the most peaceful organization and have made the most powerful contribution toward the course of the last 12 months.”
The party’s North Belfast assemblyman, Gerry Kelly, said any move to exclude Sinn Fein from the political institutions would not work. “Remember, when you are talking about excluding Sinn Fein, you are talking about excluding the largest nationalist party,” he said.
Peter Robinson, the deputy leader of the DUP and favorite to succeed the Rev. Ian Paisley as leader, has dismissed speculation that he might strike a deal with Sinn Fein if his party beats the larger UUP in May’s assembly elections.
Assuming the local elections go ahead in May, the DUP is expected to overtake the UUP as the largest unionist party. With Sinn Fein likely to leapfrog the SDLP, becoming the biggest nationalist party, this means any deal will have to be struck between the DUP and republicans.
Asked how the DUP would judge whether the IRA had ceased activity, Robinson said: “It’s like the elephant on the doorstep: it’s a bit hard to describe but you’ll know as soon as you see it.”
Durkan of the SDLP said in advance of his meeting with Blair that the same old arguments are being played out by the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein.
“The truth is that everyone has confidence issues,” he said. “The only way to deal with them is for everyone to get around the table and decide to end paramilitarism and end political paralysis by agreeing how we implement the whole agreement.”