Sinn Fein has announced that its negotiating team had left the talks to attend a meeting of party colleagues, as the deadline for reaching a deal on the devolution of policing and justice looms.
A Sinn Fein spokesman said the party leadership would assess the state of the negotiations on the implementation of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.
While plans have been made for the return of the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the 26-County Taoiseach, it is understood this will only take place if significant progress has been made.
The talks suffered a blow last night as it emerged that the Orange Order have been a leading force in high-level pan-unionist talks that have been taking place in recent months.
The secret talks in England were reportedly geared towards retaining unionist supremacy and unity throughout any forthcoming elections, in the negotiations with Sinn Fein, as well as through this year’s marching season. Last week, there was nationalist concern when it was revealed that the British Conservative party were also heavily involved in the parallel talks.
Meanwhile, the issue of sectarian Orange Order marches in nationalist areas remains a key sticking point in the marathon talks at Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast.
With Sinn Fein in a difficult position, it was reported today that the internal Sinn Fein meeting could play a role in deciding the outcome of the talks.
Earlier on Friday, the British government stressed the importance of a deal being thrashed out between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
“The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach made it very clear that today is the day for a progress report,” Gordon Brown’s spokesman said.
“It’s a good sign that discussions are continuing.”
The parties returned to Hillsborough Castle on Friday afternoon after holding discussions until 5am in the morning. One SDLP member described the mood at Hillsborough as “eerie”.
The Dublin and London governments set this afternoon as the deadline for the DUP and Sinn Fein to reach agreement otherwise they will publish their own proposals.
The Taoiseach is understood to have been in constant phone contact with the parties and Downing Street throughout the morning.
Amid an extraordinary security presence in the County Down town, there has also been speculation US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could, in the right circumstances, arrive from London to join the premiers this evening.
Speaking ahead of attending negotiations at Hillsborough Castle today, Sinn Fein Senator and prospective by-election candidate Pearse Doherty, said an Orange march through the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown or Ardoyne in Belfast would not be the “price” of the transfer of policing and justice powers from Britain to the North.
“Sinn Fein has been at Hillsborough all week and we are determined to see the implementation of the outstanding commitments of the St Andrews and Good Friday Agreements,” he said.
“We have invested much attempting to ensure that the political institutions deliver for the people and we want to see them succeed.
“The decision by the DUP, at the behest of the Orange Order, to make the abolition of the Parades Commission a precondition for the transfer of policing and justice powers flies in the face of the St. Andrews agreement.
“Sinn Fein’s record on parades is clear - we have sought and encouraged local agreement between residents and marching orders. Local accommodation and solutions must include the prospect that no parade is the eventual and agreed outcome.
“We recognise that support from all sides of the community has the potential to bring about solutions where there are difficulties. This has happened in some areas and there have been local solutions.
“No one local solution is automatically transferable to any other area but local dialogue and local leadership are the common factors where progress has been achieved. That is what offers the best prospect of a local solution.
“This requires respect for the rights of everyone - those who seek to march and those who live in areas through which they seek to march. And it must include the right to live free from sectarian harassment.
“An Orange march on Garvaghy Road or in Ardoyne will not be the price of the transfer of policing and justice powers and anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. We will not allow citizens rights and entitlements to be made subject to a unionist veto or an Orange Order pre-condition.”