Pressure mounts on negotiations
Pressure mounts on negotiations

The Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein have resumed talks at Stormont Castle today after progress was reported yesterday in the attempt to break the deadlock on the transfer of policing and justice powers in the north of Ireland from London to Belfast.

DUP leader Peter Robinson this morning briefed his party on the talks which could decide the fate of the Stormont Assembly. The talks led by Mr Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness broke up after 6pm yesterday, with both sides returning to Stormont today.

Sinn Fein want the powers transferred immediately, while the DUP has preseted a list of preconditions it says are needed to boost ‘community confidence’.

In particular, the DUP is understood to want an agreement on how contentious parades should be handled in future. Sinn Fein has said the devolution of policing and justice is a separate issue and the two should not be linked.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams today said the talks were “a work in progress”, adding his party would meet the DUP again tomorrow. “Obviously tomorrow will give all of us an opportunity to reflect on the discussions,” he said.

“Earlier in the week I outlined my view that we were into serious talks and that they were focussed. I said at that time we were not going to be making any further comment on either the quality or the complexion, the atmosphere or indeed the detail of what is going on. People know the issues; they know the broad times frames, that is in the public domain also.

“So, really our focus has to be to make this work and it is my view that it can be made to work within the context of the Good Friday and St. Andrew’s Agreement. People will also make their judgement of all of this when we have product or when we don’t have product. At the moment I’m not anxious because we are very much in a work-in-progress mode.”

Mr Adams added the party was in touch with its ardchomhairle [leadership] members, and would hold an Assembly group meeting on Monday.

There are concerns that the negotiations could be undermined by further revelations in tomorrows Sunday newspapers regarding the sex scandal surrounding the Peter Robinson’s wife, Iris, and the child abuse allegations directed at Mr Adams’s brother, Liam. Both Mr Robinson and Mr Adams have been accused of covering up for their wife and brother, respectively.

The Dublin and London governments are keen to secure a deal quickly with the current political leadership in the North. Earleir this week, Peter Robinson was forced to stand aside temporarily as First Minister at Stormont amid questions over his role in his wife’s financial dealings.

When asked if he felt under pressure over the situation around his brother, Mr Adams said: “There obviously is a lot of personal pressures but I don’t feel under pressure, in terms of political pressure. Clearly the issue is being used by very hostile elements in sections of the media and by some of my political opponents who seek to undermine me.”

He criticised the “innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations” he said were being made “with no concern whatsoever” for those in his wider family who were trying to cope with the trauma.

On Friday, Sinn Fein confirmed newspaper revelations that Liam Adams headed a Sinn Fein cumman in west Belfast in recent years, despite previous statements that he had been expelled from the party in 1997.

“I got my brother Liam to leave Sinn Fein in County Louth,” said Mr Adams. “He later unbeknownst to me rejoined the party in west Belfast. Had I known that that was the case, and I didn’t know that until Thursday, when [Sinn Fein national chairperson Declan Kearney] gave us his report, I would have moved to get him to leave the party there also. It is my strong view that he should not have been in Sinn Fein.”

It has also emerged that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a telephone conversation with Deputy First Minister McGuinness on Friday about the policing and justice negotiations.

Amid mounting speculation that agreement could be reached on the vexed issue, averting a collapse in the power-sharing government, the man tipped to be the future justice minister under the plan, Alliance party leader David Ford, said the result of the talks could define politics in the region for years to come.

“It looks as if the DUP and Sinn Fein are finally engaging seriously on some of the crucial issues that have divided them and blocked progress,” said Mr Ford.

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