Talks aimed at saving the North’s powersharing government cannot have pre-conditions attached, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has warned.
The Deputy First Minister’s remarks come amid uncertainty over whether one-to-one meetings in Belfast involving the Executive parties and the British and Irish Governments will progress to round-table negotiations.
Mr McGuinness said if full-scale talks fail, or do not proceed, then the next logical step was a snap election.
The latest crisis at Stormont was sparked by allegations that Provisional IRA members were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan.
The Ulster Unionists have quit the mandatory coalition government and the DUP have pulled four of their five ministers out of the administration.
Both Martin McGuinness and his party have vehemently rejected the assessment of police chiefs and the two governments that structures of the IRA are still in operation.
Mr McGuinness said yesterday: “I do think that, as we enter into these discussions, that it is very, very important that we do so on the basis of no pre-conditions.
“And I want to see, and am working for, talks to take place with a view to a successful outcome.
“But if talks are not going to take place and if talks do take place and there is no successful outcome then, in my view, the next logical step is to an election, and that is my very firm and strong view. Our party has no fear whatsoever of an election.”
The Sinn Fein MLA said the choice for the parties boiled down to achieving success in the talks or facing the electorate at the polls.
“That is the stark choice facing all of the parties in this process,” he added.
Earlier, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt insisted negotiations could only proceed if Sinn Fein stopped denying that the IRA existed.
He argued that Sinn Fein’s attitude to whether the IRA was still in business would “kill or cure” powersharing in Northern Ireland.
He made the assessment as he emerged from his party’s bilateral meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers at Stormont House.
Mr Nesbitt urged against round-table talks until Sinn Fein’s stance had been established.
The DUP, meanwhile, insists that negotiations have to take place under the right conditions.
The party confirmed that it had been in contact with the British Government over the weekend.