Talks over the devolution of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast have concluded with the DUP still stalling despite a pledge of significant British government funding for the move.
Pressure from London, Dublin, Washington, Sinn Fein and others of the Northern parties have so far failed to move the DUP leader Peter Robinson.
It is understood that the principal issue still being raised by Mr Robinson is his insistence that the unionist population has the “confidence” to see the Stormont administration in Belfast take over the two key state powers.
However, questions regarding the future of the old RUC/PSNI police reserve, as well as the retention by the police of ‘personal protection weapons’, also remain to be clarified.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday made public his policing and justice funding pledges to the tune of about a billion pounds sterling. After Mr Brown finally published his financial package at noon yesterday, Mr Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness met the British Conservative Party leader David Cameron.
The DUP claimed that this was necessary to ensure that the funding package would be guaranteed by a future Conservative government in London. Mr McGuinness said after the meeting that Mr Cameron had pledged he would honour the Gordon Brown deal.
“We should now move with all speed on the devolution of policing and justice powers,” said the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister. “I believe this devolution can happen before Christmas.”
The two governments and most Northern parties are hoping that the transfer of powers takes place early in the new year -- otherwise there is the expectation of political crisis.
Speaking in the London parliament yesterday, Mr Robinson welcomed publication of the package but made no commitments on when policing and justice powers might be transferred.
Mr Brown said a “secure Northern Ireland” was the key to a more prosperous North.
British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward said the North was entering “a timeframe” to make a decision. He claimed there was “a huge amount” to be gained by the parties moving forward but “a lot to be lost” if they did not.
He said standing still was not an option.
“I think we now have to be realistic and now recognise that we are living in a timeframe and a space in which it is possible to make that decision, and to know that you have the support of a significant majority of people right the way across Northern Ireland.
“In my experience of politics that is quite a good time to go and ask for a result.”
However, Republican Sinn Fein said that recent comments by former 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern were “revealing” about the nature of any locally controlled police force.
Speaking on Irish radio, Mr Ahern agreed that Sinn Fein’s background would be useful in helping to counter the republican armed groups.
“Gerry Kelly and the Provisionals will be better able to handle the dissident Republicans. After all they know the game; they know the mindset,” he said.
Republican Sinn Fein President Ruairi O Bradaigh said this suggested we will have “a northern version of the Broy Harriers”.
The Broy Harriers were a unit of Dublin Castle detectives consisting of former IRA Volunteers which worked throughout the 1930s and ‘40s to defeat their former comrades.