29/01/2010

Clock Ticking On Justice Talks

Northern Ireland's politicians have until this afternoon to broker a compromise on the contentious devolution of policing and justice powers to the Belfast Assembly.

Gordon Brown is en route to the province and poised to publish his joint proposals with the Irish government on the matter if agreement is not reached.

Negotiations at Hillsborough Castle continued early into this morning, and resumed just hours later. Sources have said the mood among deliberators is confident.

US Envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly has warned the province could suffer economically if a deal is not made.

Hillary Clinton, the American Secretary of State, has contributed to discussions via telephone. She has reportedly requested hourly updates on progress.

UK Prime Minister Mr Brown and Irish counterpart Brian Cowen flew to Belfast on Monday night to chair intensified talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
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The men left on Wednesday after failing to secure consensus. They issued a joint statement before departing from Hillsborough, pledging to put forward their plans for further devolution if no deal transpired by today.

Messrs Brown and Cowen have said the powers could be installed by May.

Secretary of State Shaun Woodwards and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin chaired the closing stages of deliberations this morning.

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 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.

(PR/GK)

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