Justice Talks Enter Crucial 48-Hours

Northern Ireland's political leaders have until tomorrow to present their plans for devolved policing and justice to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Failure by the DUP and Sinn Fein to reach an agreement, or at least a compromise, before Friday will see the British and Irish governments publish their own proposals for a way forward.

Continued wrangling over the transfer of judiciary powers between the two largest parties has threatened to collapse the Stormont power-sharing administration.

Mr Brown, and Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen, left Hillsborough Castle yesterday without brokering a deal, despite two days of intense negotiations.

The premiers issued a joint statement before exiting the province.

"Progress has been made inch by inch, slowly but surely," the men said.

"Having talked to all the leaders of Northern Ireland's political parties, we brought forward proposals that we believe set clear parameters for a pathway to an agreement."
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Messrs Brown and Cowen said they believe it is "practicable to set a date in early March for the cross-community vote and the beginning of May for the transfer of powers".

The statement added: "We look forward to receiving an update on progress from the first minister and deputy first minister on Friday."

Today, Secretary of State Shaun Woodwards and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin will chair further cross-party talks.

Parading has proved a major sticking point for both sides. The DUP has called for the dissolutions of the Parades Commission, which adjudicates on contentious Orange Order marches.

Sinn Fein wishes to retain the status quo, having accused the DUP leadership of bowing to unionist hardliners.

Republicans could still take the 'nuclear' options of pulling Martin McGuiness from the office of the First and Deputy First Minister, forcing Peter Robinson to resign.

If either party failed to renominate ministers within seven days the Belfast Assembly's powers would revert to London.

Under direct rule the Secretary of State would control all Northern Ireland matters. An early Stormont election would be called within weeks.


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