Devolution talks go on
Devolution talks go on

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has insisted that the North’s political parties have reached “the end game” in negotiating a financial package with the British government on the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast.

Mr McGuinness said it was “imperative” that the devolution of powers went ahead and that good progress had been made on financial issues relating to the matter.

The deputy first minister was speaking after he and First Minister Peter Robinson had talks in London with British prime minister Gordon Brown.

According to Mr McGuinness there had been good progress in the area of funding so-called legacy issues such as legal costs and hearing loss claims.

Mr McGuinness also said that the Conservatives should not have a veto on a future financial package.

Mr Robinson however said that no-one should be rushing towards the devolution of policing and justice in circumstances that could leave Stormont without the necessary funding. It is understood the first and deputy first ministers are seeking in the region of £600 million to pay for the transfer of powers to the assembly.

While the question of funds featured prominently in the public remarks of the political leaders, it is also suspected that the DUP are resisting the move under pressure from unionist hardliners who wish to isolate Sinn Fein from influence over “security” matters.

It is understood that Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness will meet the prime minister again next week.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has said that it “will do the right thing” when it comes to the funding policing and justice powers at Stormont but it cannot give guarantees.

Mr Robinson has said that even if a financial package is offered by Mr Brown, he wants dialogue with the Tories to ensure it would be honoured if the Tories came to power after the next Westminster election.

Shadow Direct Ruler Owen Paterson reconfirmed Conservative Party support for the devolution of policing and justice powers but warned of fiscal concerns.

“Given the dire economic position it would be irresponsible to make any major financial commitments without knowing the detail,” he said.

Mr McGuinness has warned that the DUP would be making “a huge mistake” unless it agreed a deal by Christmas.

The SDLP’s Alban Maginness said the lack of political agreement between Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson reflected the dysfunctional character of the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the executive.

The DUP’s Edwin Poots meanwhile called for consideration of proposals by Mr Robinson for majority voting to replace power-sharing at Stormont and told Sinn Fein that instead of “throwing the toys out of their pram it is time to stand on their own two feet”.

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