Hard-line republicans who have forced Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to step up their personal security are trying to undermine power-sharing plans for the North, Peter Hain said today.
After it emerged that senior Sinn Féin leaders, including the party's policing spokesman Gerry Kelly, have had to enhance their personal security measures after dissident republican threats, the Northern Secretary was certain the Sinn Féin leadership was committed to achieving peace and stability.
"They (the dissident republicans) do not want a power-sharing executive running with all parties committed to supporting police and the rule of law," he said.
"That is where the dissidents are at. We have seen firebomb attacks and other incidents and threats of this kind.
"I do not know the specifics of this, but what I do know is that there are those committed to the path of stability and peace and democracy as Sinn Féin's leaders are."
Sinn Féin is contemplating finally joining other Northern parties in endorsing the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists insist that Sinn Féin must publicly support the police and encourage their supporters to co-operate with officers if Gerry Adams' party is to be a credible partner in government.
On Friday, Mr Hain and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern set in train the British and Irish governments timetable for reviving a power-sharing government by next March.
The first important deadline facing the parties will be on November 24, when Mr Paisley and Mr McGuiness are due to be appointed in the Assembly as shadow of first and deputy first ministers at Stormont.
In recent days the DUP has warned that the first deadline could slip because Sinn Féin is not yet in a position to call a special party conference to consider changing its policing policy.
Mr Adams last night insisted that he could not call the conference because there were still outstanding issues to be addressed on policing.
His party wants a date from the DUP for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to the next Stormont government, and he also wants Mr Paisley's party to sign off on the type of departmental model that will handle the powers.
Meanwhile, the mere fact that Sinn Féin is contemplating taking another historic step in the peace process by endorsing the PSNI has irritated some republicans, not just in the hard-line Real IRA, Continuity IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army but also some members of the Provisional movement.
Mr Adams was philosophical about the security threat to himself and other senior party figures.
"Obviously, there are elements out there who are opposed to Sinn Féin strategy and who are seeking to exploit the current situation," the West Belfast MP said.
"I would not be playing this up or dealing with it as anything other than just the atmosphere in which we work.
"I am calling on people to ensure they are not being manipulated. I uphold peoples' right to express an opinion on issues in a frank, open and comradely debate on any matter."
"However, the Sinn Féin leadership is not going to be deflected from what we think is the right thing to do for the republican struggle.
"We are not short-termers. We are long-termers. We think strategically. We are about the future."
Mr Adams criticised Mr Hain's handling of the political process since the St Andrews talks, and also the DUP's stance on policing.
"The DUP's position is contradictory in that it is saying Sinn Féin must sign up for policing - and we have no problem doing that when it measures up to accountable civic depoliticised policing - and then they say we can have no executive influence over this issue for a political generation," he said.
"Peter Hain's role in all of this has not been steady.
"He has been true to the core of the Good Friday Agreement. He has been less than sure footed and been quite pliable to the agenda of those who do not want this process to move beyond the current deadlock."