By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The British government is calling for a roundtable meeting of all the pro-Good Friday agreement political parties in an effort to reach consensus on the contentious issues of policing and the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.
A spokesman said Monday that Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted all those involved to sit down and "face up to the realities" of the current situation.
"He [Blair] thinks there may be a need just to bring the parties together based on the discussions we have had," the spokesman said. "The hope is that we do get a round-table sometime this week."
The taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has played down hopes of an immediate breakthrough in the deadlocked peace process.
"I do not share the view that it is just a matter of saying that the British government have to move on these issues," Ahern said.
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Ahern indicated that Sinn Fein and the British government would have to move on the issues of decommissioning and demilitarization.
"To make progress on decommissioning, you need certain people to indicate their move, and to move on demilitarization, you need indications from certain people," he said.
Earlier, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams warned Blair against the "folly" of suspending political institutions over the deadlocked peace process. While the prospect of placing the process in storage until after the elections continues to grow, he stressed a deal to avert the potential crisis can still be brokered.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist Party has stepped up its sanctions on Sinn Fein’s involvement in the North South Ministerial Council. The party leader, David Trimble, is going to the Court of Appeal in his fight to prevent Sinn Fein ministers from attending cross-border meetings.
Lawyers for the Ulster Unionist leader have lodged notice of appeal against a judge’s ruling that Trimble had acted unlawfully when he banned Sinn Fein ministers Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun from the meetings.
Adams condemned what he called "the Unionist veto," which he said resulted in the failure of the North-South Ministerial Council to meet as scheduled last Friday.
The meeting was due to have been held in Armagh and would have been attended by Ahern and ministers from Britain’s Northern Ireland executive.
It emerged last Thursday that Trimble and the three other Ulster Unionist ministers in the executive would have refused to attend if the meeting had gone ahead.
A Unionist Party spokesman said: "This is a significant escalation of the sanctions against Sinn Fein. The refusal of the republican movement to honor its commitments on disarmament is the main reason for instability within the political process."
Sinn Fein reacted with considerable anger.
"Mr Trimble’s ability to behave illegally and with impunity is very much the responsibility of the British government, which has failed to use its legislative powers or to make him pay a price for his subversion of the agreement," Adams said.
SDLP-Sinn Fein at odds
Meanwhile, as an election looms, relations between Sinn Fein and the SDLP have worsened over policing. A leading SDLP figure has said republicans must directly address what he termed their responsibility to achieve IRA decommissioning instead of "changing the issue to one of policing."
The SDLP chairman, Alex Attwood, called for a return to the spirit that had led to the Good Friday agreement.
"It is always very interesting that when Sinn Fein are challenged about the issue of weapons, they immediately change the issue to one of policing," he said.
"It is time for republicans, like all of us, to face up to our responsibilities. It is time for republicans collectively to face up to their responsibility with respect to the disposal of weapons."
Sinn Fein’s policing spokesman, Gerry Kelly, defending the party’s handling of the issue.
"We stand on our record," Kelly said. "Sinn Fein have used their influence more than any other party involved."
Kelly said he was surprised that Attwood was calling for a definitive position from republicans on decommissioning while the SDLP was not declared its view of the police reforms.
"He says people are going to have to decide," Kelly said. "Then tell us what is he going to do on policing? We have already made it clear that we are not going to accept half measures or three-quarter measures."