Irish Republican News · February 4, 2010
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Talks are over - SF; Robinson retakes First Minister role

Talks on the implementation of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement have ended and the basis for a deal now exists, Sinn Fein said today.

The announcement by the party’s junior minister Gerry Kelly ends nearly two weeks of negotiations, with the outcome now depending on the reaction of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The North’s political process has witnessed three years of stalemate between Sinn Fein and the DUP on the issue of transferring policing and justice powers from Westminster to the Stormont Assembly in Belfast. The latest hurdle saw unionist demands for a new system for overseeing sectarian parades through nationalist areas.

“The negotiations have come to a conclusion,” Mr Kelly said today. “We believe that it is a positive conclusion and we believe that it is the basis on which to move forward.”

Following reports of significant disagreement within the DUP over the outline of a deal presented to the party’s Assembly team on Monday, there are significant doubts whether the party will sign up to the deal as currently formulated. A total of 14 Assembly members were said to have rejected the draft agreement, forcing the DUP leader Peter Robinson to seek further concessions from Sinn Fein. At that time, he said he needed the unanimous support for his Assembly party for a deal.

Yesterday evening, Mr Robinson unexpectedly resumed his role as First Minister of the Stormont Assembly. In a statement, he insisted he been cleared by a senior lawyer’s investigation into a sex and corruption scandal centring on an extra-marital affair by his wife, Iris, which also led to allegations of financial irregularities against Mr Robinson himself.

Mr Robinson stepped aside from the post as First Minister, but not as party leader, over three weeks ago, temporarily replaced by party colleague Arlene Foster, His decision to now resume those duties was criticised by some as premature but seen as a tactical effort by Mr Robinson to bolster his position at a critical time for his party and the political process.

Yesterday, British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward described the talks as being on a “knife edge”. Earlier today, the 26-County Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin again expressed confidence that the deal on the devolution of justice and policing powers can be agreed “within the next 24 to 48 hours”.

While one-on-one discussions currently underway within the DUP, it is not known when or if the party will hold the critical meeting of its Assembly members. However, with no plans for the British and 26-County premiers to visit Belfast today, a final announcement of either a breakthrough or a breakdown in the political process is unlikely before tomorrow.

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