Both Sinn Fein and the DUP have said progress has been made in their labyrinthine negotiations over the implementation of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, and confirmed that the talks will conclude shortly.
Discussions resumed this morning after being suspended on Saturday night. Both parties’ negotiating teams briefed their respective assembly members on progress of the talks. While the Sinn Fein meeting finished after about 90 minutes, the DUP’s internal discussions lasted for more than three-and-a-half hours.
The weekend saw an outbreak of considerable public optimism among negotiators that efforts to finally secure a deal on the devolution of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont could finally be reached. The focus was said to be on the content and timeline of delivery on devolution, as well as a range of other issues -- particularly unionist efforts to secure sectarian marches by the Orange Order through nationalist areas -- to allow a deal to be sold to both Sinn Fein and DUP supporters.
There were indications that the Dublin and London governments have privately set tomorrow [Tuesday] as a final deadline for a deal. A return visit to Belfast by 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not been ruled out.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said today that the issue at stake was about people’s rights and having those rights upheld by both the Dublin and London governments, adding: “it’s very hard to get the DUP to do the business if the governments are not upholding agreements”.
However, he said the atmosphere at the talks had improved.
“After the first 70 or 80 hours... it was like playing a game of hurling, we were able, I think, to have control of the pitch, to have game on with the DUP, and that has continued for the last 20 or 30 hours of engagement.”
Mr Adams told Irish radio that the way parades are facilitated and monitored would be improved under any deal “but that does not mean a parade down Garvaghy Road”.
“The only way a parade can go down Gavaghy Road, or the Ormeau Road for that matter, is if the local communities invite the marchers in.”
He concluded: “I’m satisfied today... there is going to be a necessity of a deal, and very soon”.
Speaking at the annual Bloody Sunday commemoration in Derry yesterday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the marathon negotiations at Hillsborough last week were “about equality”.
“It was about rights. Your rights, my rights, our rights. These are not negotiable. They are entitlements. The right to a proper policing service, the right to institutions which deliver, the right to see poverty tackled.
“I am happy to say we have made significant progress. Institutions which don’t deliver are worthless and something I will not be involved in.
“I now hope we have a basis upon which nationalists, republicans, unionists and loyalists will move forward together on the basis of partnership and equality.
“There is no other realistic or viable path available.”
Breandan Mac Cionnaith, general secretary if the small republican eirigi party, said the prolonged talks stalemate was “evidence of the failed nature of the northern state”.
Mr Mac Cionnaith said: “Attempts at an internal settlement for the Six Counties are doomed to failure. All such attempts have failed in the past and they will do so again.
“The Six County state is a failed political entity. No amount of cosmetic reform and spin can change that fact.
“Even if the policing and justice powers in question were devolved to Stormont, it would make no meaningful difference to the role of the PSNI and the British legal system in the Six Counties.
“According to the St Andrews agreement, after devolution the head of the PSNI would still be accountable to the British secretary of state in matters relating to ‘national security’, i.e. the interests of the British state in Ireland.
“As a result, every time the PSNI fired a plastic bullet, used Tasers or CS gas, harassed someone under repressive legislation, raided a home or detained someone without charge for 28 days, a Six County justice minister would be powerless to do anything about it, even if they wanted to.
“The PSNI’s primary job is to protect the British occupation - that job description will not be changing any time soon.”
Mac Cionnaith continued: “The apparent failure of the latest set of crisis talks highlights the reality that a two-state solution is not a feasible option for Irish society.
“The only hope for meaningful progress and change for the Irish people, north and south, lies with a British disengagement from this country’s affairs and the ending of partition. Every failed effort at normalising the Six County state reinforces that fact.”