Key meetings of Assembly committees are taking place in Belfast this week which will seek to bridge significant differences on the issue of the transfer of justice and policing powers from London to Belfast.

The issue central to the return of powers next March under the British and Irish governments’ timetable.

Sinn Féin has rejected a DUP proposal at a meeting of the same committee last Thursday which called for any future justice minister to be elected by a 70% weighted cross-community vote.

This would mean that any nationalist nomination to such a post could be vetoed by the DUP.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly told Radio Ulster he “will not collude” in his own party’s exclusion from office.

Mr Kelly said he was open to any model on the transfer of policing powers as long as it was linked to a clear timetable and he accused the DUP of opposing the transfer of powers as an issue to block power-sharing with republicans.

He said the DUP were “not producing anything that shows a way out” of the difficulties over policing.

The nationalist SDLP has also rejected a DUP proposal for any new justice minister to lose the power to vote at executive meetings.

SDLP MP Alban Maginness accused the DUP of “slapping down on the table” a brand new demand that would require further legislation.

“It would see a justice minister at the Executive who would have no vote and who would be a second-class minister in what is meant to be an Executive of equals. Bizarrely, the justice minister would not even be able to vote for his/her own proposals to the Executive.”

Last week, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and PSNI police chief Hugh Orde held a controversial “confidence building” meeting in Belfast.

The landmark meeting began with delegations from Sinn Féin and the PSNI facing each other across the table in the presence of television cameras.

It is thought the media coverage of the meeting was intended to act as a signal to DUP and republican grassroots of Sinn Féin’s conditional preparedness to endorse the PSNI.

However, there was no handshake, despite one of the cameramen asking Mr Adams and Mr Orde to make such a gesture.

Afterwards, Mr Adams held to his position that there could be no resolution of the policing issue until the DUP agreed a timeframe for devolving policing and justice to the Executive. However, he also said it was still possible to meet the two governments’ March 26th deadline for restoring power-sharing.

“What we have to do is bring the PSNI up to the mark so that those people who are republicans can feel that for the first time ever we have accountable civic policing that they can endorse and subscribe to. But, let’s be real about this, there is a lot of work to be done to get to that point,” he added.

He said it required a two-thirds vote at an ardchomhairle to call an ardfheis on policing and he wasn’t in a position to call an ardchomhairle meeting. “We need to resolve the whole matter of the transfer of powers on policing and justice and a do-able, definitive timeframe to achieve that,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting on policing is expected to be the last talks before Christmas. Its members are due to report back to the Programme for Government Committee on January 3rd.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News