A draft document presented by Dublin and London officials at the multi-party negotiations in Belfast could yet lead to a breakthrough deal and the preservation of the North’s powersharing administration, it has emerged.
Most of the North’s political parties met face-to-face for crunch talks on a detailed document which sets May 4th as a date for the transfer of justice powers from London to Belfast as well as the controversial replacement of the Parades Commission.
The round table meeting chaired by 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown a brought together the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party for the first time during the talks.
The plenary session marked the first occasion all the main political leaders have sat down in the same room since the negotiations to resolve the row over devolving policing powers was joined by the two premiers yesterday.
Talks are set to continue all night, with both Brown and Cowen due to leave tomorrow morning for parliamentary questions in Westminster and the Dail respectively.
It also emerged the US administration is keeping a close eye on the negotiations, with Mr Brown holding a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this afternoon.
The date pencilled in for the devolution of policing and justice powers is just prior to the expected date for the British general election. The draft document in circulation amongsth the party negotiators is also understood to contain the outline of a new system for adjudicating on sectarian parades involving community representatives. Other measures refer to the Irish language and other outstanding issues.
DUP leader Peter Robinson would not make any commitment.
“It really is not until the last few minutes or hours that you do get the sense that it (a deal) can be put together.
“I cannot say that there is going to be a deal, we are going to sit at the table...until we get the deal.”
Sinn Fein Assembly minister Conor Murphy said the failure would have serious implications for the Assembly.
“The consequence of failure is that we don’t have a functioning executive,” he said. “If we don’t have a functioning executive, we don’t have functioning institutions.”
Asked about the prospects for a deal, Mr Murphy refused to be drawn.
But he added: “This isn’t about us trying to reach some compromise, we have delivered on our commitments in terms of St Andrews.”