The Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the British Prime Minister held emergency talks with Sinn Fein and the DUP into the early hours of this morning but there were no signs of a breakthrough in the three-year-old stalemate.
Thry are to continue talks with the northern parties at Hillsborough Castle today in an effort to avert a collapse of power-sharing in Belfast.
The leaders are understood to have cleared their diaries for the coming days in anticipation of intensive exchanges with the rival politicians.
Sinn Fein minister in the power-sharing government Conor Murphy emerged from the talks insisting that his party was seeking a date for transfer of policing powers from London to Belfast and wider agreements that would ensure a true spirit of partnership and equality between republicans and unionists in the Six-County administration.
He said: “We are here clearly to get a date for the transfer of powers on policing and justice. That has been our focus.
“We want to see an agreement here. We want to see the institutions working properly.
“But they can only work properly if we have partners in these institutions who are willing to work them.”
Sinn Fein has pointed out that within three months of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement that paved the way for the power-sharing government Sinn Fein had fulfilled its obligations by controversially backing the reformed RUC, the PSNI.
He said that three years on, the DUP had yet to fulfil its commitment to allow political responsibility for law and order in the North to be brought within the Belfast Assembly.
With the talks ongoing, Mr Murphy said late last night the DUP could broker a deal if the political will existed.
“Tonight will test that political will,” he said.
DUP minister Arlene Foster said her party had made no commitment to a timeframe for the devolution of policing powers.
The DUP demanded concessions on loyalist and Orange Order parades and is arguing for the parades commission, which currently adjudicates on the routes of controversial marches, to be scrapped.
Ms Foster said: “We are committed to working out and working through the outstanding issues.
“We want to see the devolution of policing and justice powers come. But we want to see it come, so that it comes in a sustainable and durable way.”
There were indications that some progress was made in the attempt to create a formula that would permit the DUP leader to accept a proposal on parading that would be short of the abolition of the Parades Commission.
The Taoiseach and prime minister and their senior officials were seeking a mechanism which would allow Mr Robinson to stand back from his absolutist demand on the Parades Commission, without appearing to succumb to Sinn Fein demands, said senior sources.
British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward said there was scope for “lateral thinking” around the parades obstacle.
Minutes before, the DUP acting First Minister Arlene Foster and Minister of Finance Sammy Wilson also indicated that movement on parades was possible. “We are open to any suggestion that helps deal with the issue of parades,” said Mr Wilson.
“We are not being prescriptive on parades,” he added. He described the negotiations as a “contrived crisis”.
Sinn Fein negotiator and junior minister Gerry Kelly left the talks at 9pm to report that his party was in the talks “to do the business” and agree a date for devolving policing and justice, but that there was still no progress.
“We want this issue sorted out as soon as possible,” said Mr Kelly. “The issues are well known. We can have them sorted out very quickly, and we hope to have them sorted out very quickly, but up to this point we haven’t reached that.”