The Democratic Unionist Party was tonight in last-minute talks with the British Government before giving its verdict on a deal to save North's power-sharing Assembly.
Sinn Féin announced earlier today that negotiations on policing, justice and parades had ended and republicans believed the basis for an agreement existed.
But DUP Environment Minister Edwin Poots tonight said his party was meeting the Government at Hillsborough castle for further talks.
In response to the Sinn Féin comments, he said: “The referee’s whistle has not been blown yet. And if one team leaves the pitch before the referee’s whistle is blown, that is a matter for them. We are still playing.”
Mr Poots’ claim that his party was still in discussions with the Government appeared to be at odds with an announcement earlier today by Sinn Féin’s junior minister Gerry Kelly.
Mr Kelly said: “The negotiations have come to a conclusion. We believe that it is a positive conclusion and we believe that it is the basis on which to move forward.”
The two parties have been involved in 10 days of discussions at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down, with representatives of the British and Irish governments.
The talks hinge on the search for a deal on the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont, plus unionist calls for a new system for overseeing loyal order parades.
DUP leader Peter Robinson briefed his party colleagues at Stormont on Monday amid speculation that a deal was to be agreed at that time.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Taoiseach Brian Cowen were on standby to attend an official announcement.
But it has been widely reported that 14 of the DUP’s 36 Assembly members refused to support the proposals.
The apparent rebellion – though hotly denied by the DUP – appeared to scupper plans to announce a successful conclusion of the talks on Monday.
Tonight it was unclear when the DUP would hold its next party meeting to discuss a final package of proposals.
In a further development, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams writing today in his blog, Leargas, claimed his party had blocked moves by the DUP to secure concessions from the British Government after the unionist party met internal difficulties on Monday.
Mr Adams said: “We were to meet Peter Robinson when his group meeting was finished but he headed off to talk to the British. There was then a real concern that there would be an attempt to re-negotiate what had been agreed. We ruled that out.
“It is obvious that Peter has to go back to his Assembly group. We have just concluded our discussions with them.”
Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey tonight refused to interpret whether the renewed DUP contacts with government represented a last minute difficulty in the search for a deal and said he believed agreement was possible.