Sinn Fein has refused to sign up to Northern Ireland's new policing board, the party's president, Gerry Adams, confirmed yesterday.
Adams was speaking before his party's annual conference in Dublin during which several delegates expressed their opposition to any moves to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The West Belfast MP said the British government's proposed bill aimed at devolving policing and justice powers to a future Stormont Assembly was insufficient for Sinn Fein. The new Policing Board is due to be in place by 1 April.
'Can we get an extraordinary Ard Fheis [conference] before that, can we get legislation before that, can we get the DUP on board before that - that all appears to be unlikely,' he said.
The Sinn Fein leader held out hope of a deal, which would enable the party to back the PSNI. He said: 'If we do all that, of course I'm quite prepared to go before the Ard Chomhairle (Central Committee) whether it's April Fool's Day or not.'
Sinn Fein's inability to sign up to policing will cast a shadow over a new initiative aimed at restoring devolution.
Irish government sources confirmed reports yesterday that Tony Blair is offering to restore the Assembly without the power-sharing Executive. The Assembly would run up to an 'absolute deadline' for the re-establishment of full Executive powers. Last week it appeared that a visit by Blair to Belfast was cancelled over the failure of parties to agree on a blueprint for devolution. Dublin sources, however, insisted Blair will travel to Northern Ireland within the next few weeks.
'The idea is that you allow the Assembly to run in shadow form for a year. Local politics are seen to be working in some shape, and then within a year the DUP come under massive pressure to enter government with Sinn Fein,' one source said.
However, The Observer has learnt that the issue of the republican movement's vast financial and highly secretive empire will be highlighted over the next few weeks. Detectives are planning to question a leading businessman over alleged links with leading IRA figures.
Blair's latest game plan, the Irish sources said, would also allow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain to call a snap Assembly election this year.
During yesterday's conference in Dublin there was criticism of the Irish government over claims by Sinn Fein delegates that it was failing to promote Irish unity. The convicted IRA gunrunner and North Kerry TD Martin Ferris said Justice Minister Michael McDowell and his Progressive Democrats were akin to Ian Paisley's DUP. Ferris accused the junior coalition partner of 'trying to subvert the Good Friday Agreement'.