Sinn Fein dismay amid talks recriminations
Sinn Fein dismay amid talks recriminations

Sinn Fein said it was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome of the talks at Hillsborough Castle and blamed DUP demands for a concession on contentious sectarian parades for blocking an agreement.

The parties have been issuing their reactions to today’s developments, including a 48-hour deadline for agreement issued by the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cown.

DUP leader Peter Robinson said the document at St Andrews made it very clear that there was no commitment to a date for the devolution of policing and justice. However, he says his party wants it to happen, but on a basis that is sustainable and satisfactory.

Speaking to the assembled media, Mr Robinson said the areas of disagreement had been narrowed and that a deal could be done if people are flexible, but he says some “haven’t been flexible enough”.

Mr Robinson says the DUP will not buy “a pig in a poke”.

“If others chose to walk away, the wrath of the community will be on them,” he said, again referring to Sinn Fein.

“People out there are not obsessing about the issue of policing and justice. It needs to be resolved but it should not be at the expense of dealing with good government in Northern Ireland. I believe the community would be outraged if anyone was to walk away.”

He added that the DUP has “set no time limit and place no threat on the institution”.

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, flanked by party colleagues including president Gerry Adams, said: “I believe we have displayed extraordinary patience and commitment over the past 18 months as we sought to persuade the Democratic Unionist Party to be partners of progress.

“Over recent days the two governments have joined that effort.

“The decision by the DUP, at the behest of the Orange Order, to make the abolition of the Parades Commission a pre-condition for the transfer of powers on policing and justice flies in the face of all that.”

Mr McGuinness said the demand had made agreement difficult, adding: “Many are speculating that this was the real intention.”

He said that, despite progress on policing, no final deal had been agreed.

“I am very deeply disappointed about that,” he said.

Mr McGuinness had made his feelings known in a private meeting with party leaders and in subsequent meetings with the premiers.

The party would nevertheless study the proposals tabled by the two governments, he said.

“But one thing is certain -- and it is absolutely certain as far as we are concerned -- that citizens’ rights and entitlements will not be made subject to a unionist veto or an Orange Order pre-condition.”

The following is the joint statement issued at Hillsborough this afternoon by 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

We have worked hard over the last two days to establish common ground, to build dialogue between the parties, and to re-establish the trust necessary to complete the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement provided the foundation for peace and political progress. The St Andrews agreement was a further major step forward. But a number of issues remain to be fully implemented.

Resolving these issues is the key to enabling the completion of devolution and the opening of a new chapter in the life of Northern Ireland.

The devolved institutions can then focus on the issues that concern everyone - jobs, health, schools, social services, community safety.

We do not pretend that this is an easy process.

The issues we have been discussing go to the very core of Northern Ireland’s past, and their solutions are the foundations for Northern Ireland’s future.

But we have been determined to bring it to completion over the past two days. Progress has been made inch by inch/slowly but surely.

Having talked to all the leaders of Northern Ireland’s political parties, we brought forward proposals that we believe set clear parameters for a pathway to an agreement.

We have made much progress, but it is right that the parties themselves now work together, in the spirit of trust and understanding, to agree and take ownership of the solutions.

We believe there is now a firm basis for the parties to:

* set an early date for the completion of the final stage of devolution. We agree it would be practicable to set a date in early March for the cross-community vote and the beginning of May for the transfer of powers.

* create a new justice department and define the relationship between the justice minister and the executive on an agreed, strong and sustainable footing;

* benefit from the offer from the British government of #800 million of resources for a new department of justice - money which is only available if agreement is reached by the parties at this time

* enhance the existing framework to deal more effectively with contentious parades, learning lessons from successful local models, and enhance the framework governing parades and related public assemblies in a way that guarantees respect, dialogue, transparency and independence.

We have also put proposals for the executive to move ahead on other outstanding issues from the St Andrews Agreement.

The importance of these decisions for the future of Northern Ireland cannot be underestimated. With leadership and courage, they can be achieved.

We are confident that this week’s talks leave Northern Ireland better able to overcome divisions, more determined to move forward together, with a greater understanding of what unites communities in Northern Ireland.

We look forward to receiving an update on progress from the first and deputy first ministers on Friday.

If it proves impossible for the parties to resolve the outstanding issues, we are prepared to bring forward our specific proposals at that point for wider debate and discussion.

We have listened to their views - and we are now right to ask them to do what they have to do, which is to reach agreement on these outstanding issues and move quickly to the cross community vote in the assembly necessary to achieve the completion of devolution.

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