Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams today warned Tony Blair that it would be a “mistake” to suspend power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.
Following crisis talks with the British prime minister in Downing Street, Mr Adams said suspending the Stormont Executive and Assembly would not resolve the current difficulties in the peace process.
“We warned against a long vacuum which will be filled by those who want to tear this down,” he said afterwards.
Mr Adams also urged Blair not to bow to demands by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to expel Sinn Fein from the Stormont government.
Mr Trimble has warned that he will withdraw his ministers effectively collapsing the Executive if Mr Blair does not take steps to expel Sinn Fein by Tuesday.
However Mr Adams insisted that if the unionists did walk out they would eventually have to return.
“If Mr Trimble wishes to walk out of the institutions let him walk out,” he said.
The Sinn Fein president characterised his meeting with Blair as “cordial honest and frank”.
He rejected suggestions that Sinn Fein had been summoned to a meeting that would be a cross “between High Noon and Gunfight at the Okay Coral”.
He said that bringing down the political institutions would not achieve the disbandment of the IRA which unionists were demanding.
“To suspend the institutions once again would be a mistake,” he said.
“It would characterise the institutions as optional extras, as being something that is given or taken away again depending on the ability of unionism to live with what is happening.”
The party’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness warned against focusing too much on the continued existence of the IRA.
“I think it is very important that we don’t lose the plot in all of this,” he said.
Mr Adams acknowledged that the events of last week, with the exposure of an alleged IRA spy ring in the Northern Ireland government, had created difficulties for all parties including unionists and including Sinn Fein.
Nevertheless he insisted that republicans remained committed to the Good Friday Agreement.
“We are wedded to this process. We will continue to do our best to move this process on to make progress possible,” he said.
After the talks with Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid described the meeting as "honest, frank and in many ways constructive''.
He stressed the continuing commitment of the British government to the Good Friday Agreement but warned Republicans that they could not continue to sit in Stormont while at the same time engaging in paramilitary activities.
Dr Reid said that it was impossible to “sustain a situation of power-sharing where there is any suggestion that democracy is being combined with paramilitary activity or violence”.
He said that further talks over the crisis would continue tomorrow.