DUP gloating ahead of talks
The leaders of the four parties that make up the northern Executive have not formally met since power-sharing was established in May last year, it has emerged.
UUP leader Reg Empey criticised the lack of dialogue as he backed plans for multi-party talks to tackle issues dividing the Executive.
Empey said there must be an end to recent high profile negotiations in London or Dublin, which last week averted a threatened to suspend of collapse the Belfast Assembly. The dispute has arisen over the failure of the DUP to implement elements of the 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement.
The transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast and issues such as an Irish Language Act threatened to derail the nomination of DUP leader Peter Robinson as First Minister last week.
Sinn Fein could have prevented Mr Robinson succeeding the retiring Ian Paisley by refusing to re-nominate Martin McGuinness to share the office.
Following talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein in Downing Street, Mr Robinson said he would like to see all four government parties taking part in talks to find a solution to outstanding issues.
The tactic could have forced elections, but both parties emerged from discussions in London committed to finding a way forward and seeking to include their Executive partners, the UUP and the nationalist SDLP.
The talks come despite a series of belligerent DUP statements condemning Sinn Fein for opposing its veto on political change in the North.
Upper Bann MP and Assembly member David Simpson called Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams a “political bluffer” for generating a “mini-crisis” over the nomination of the First Minister.
South Antrim MP William McCrea claimed that Sinn Fein’s “attempt at brinkmanship had comprehensively failed”.
Mr McCrea said there was no movement on Sinn Fein concerns. “The truth of the matter is that Gerry Adams was desperately seeking to re-establish some credibility following the string of defeats that have been inflicted on Sinn Fein in the Assembly by unionists,” he added.
The bragging is being linked to the DUP’s bail-out of the beleaguered British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the Westminster parliament in London last night.
Republicans are demanding to know what Brown promised the DUP to secure their support to stave off an embarrassing and wounding defeat over controversial new legislation.
Thirty-six Labour MPs rebelled against Brown’s plans for unpopular new policing powers to extend the time available for the interrogation of police suspects from four to six weeks. His government won the vote by a majority of just nine, the exact number of DUP MPs, who normally support the opposition Conservative Party in the House of Commons.
Conservative MPs gasped in astonishment and pointed accusing fingers at the DUP bench when they heard that Brown’s majority matched the DUP’s exact parliamentary strength.
Veteran left-winger and former Labour minister Tony Benn described it as “a classic example of selling your birthright for a mess of potage” and said the outcome was “a sad day for British justice”.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson insisted that there was “no deal” tied to last night’s vote, claiming the party had finally been persuaded on the merit of the government’s case and “voted on a matter of principle”.
However, Mr Donaldson admitted there were “a whole range of issues” on which the DUP would “continue to press” the government.
Sinn Fein has not commented on the Westminster vote. The party is also maintaining a silence on the dispute in the northern Executive ahead of the planned negotiations.