Sinn Fein sees ‘responsibility to be honest’
Sinn Fein sees ‘responsibility to be honest’

The chances of an imminent deal to break the political stalemate in the north have receded tonight as negotiations continued despite the passage of a deadline set by the Dublin and London governments.

The talks at Hillsborough Castle on the implementation of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement have now lasted longer than any single negotiations, including those which led to the original 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

As speculation faded that 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British prime minister Gordon Brown could decide to return to Hillsborough today, so did the belief that Sinn Fein and the DUP could finally conclude a deal to bring about the transfer of policing and justice powers to the north of Ireland.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams told unhappy reporters late on a cold night outside the castle that the talks are “at a sensitive and defining” point.

“Hopefully we will get the business done in the terms that are required,” he added.

Indicating that talks would continue through the night and possibly well into this morning, Mr Adams added: “We will keep at it. The fact that we are here and working shows we do think there is a chance.”

A senior DUP figure was reported last night to be refusing to “walk away”.

“There is still a long way to go before we will be at a point where we will be putting our name to anything; there is still a fair amount of work to be done.

“We certainly won’t be walking away from anything,” he added.

The previous night’s negotiations concluded at 5am in the early hours, and talks are still reported to be underway at 3am this morning.

The main issue blocking the agreement remained unionist demands for new mechanisms for dealing with contentious parades.

DUP leader Peter Robinson said that parties needed to “stretch themselves” if there were to be a deal.

Mr Robinson said the DUP was prepared to remain at the negotiations in order to strike a deal.

He believed the parties still “have the opportunity to create a new beginning for politics in Northern Ireland”.

Mr Robinson said he was “not interested in deadlines”.

“If the deal isn’t right it won’t be done,” he said.

“We are not afraid of the devolution of policing and justice.

“But, until I have a package that looks right, I’ll not be going to my party colleagues to ask for support.”

Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy said it was a “defining” day.

“We do have to come to a stage where, if it isn’t working properly, we have a responsibility to be honest with people and say the basis on which we went into these institutions, the basis on which we agreed with the DUP and the two governments that they would work, is not working,” he said.

“We’re busy talking to the two governments, to the DUP.

“Our preference would be to get an agreement so we can move on from here. But if that’s not available we would have to assess where we go from there.”

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