Talks ‘on the edge’ - Woodward
Talks ‘on the edge’ - Woodward

British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward has warned that efforts to reach a deal on policing and justice in the north of Ireland are “on the edge”.

After nine days of negotiations, Woodward told British MPs at the Westminster parliament that with “good political will” there could still be a “reasonable” agreement.

But he warned that failure to achieve agreement would put “much of the achievements of the peace process at risk”.

No further talks have been scheduled between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein on Wednesday, amid mounting speculation that the outcome of the negotiations will depend on the next meeting of the DUP’s Belfast Assembly team at Stormont.

Sinn Fein said last night it remains confident a deal can be done, and that the party’s assembly party had been briefed by its negotiating team.

“Whatever is going on in the DUP, is a matter for the DUP,” said South Belfast Assemblyman Alex Maskey.

Mr Maskey admitted that there were some outstanding issues to be decided but nothing to block a deal.

“There are not that many, they are not that major, we believe that we can do that quickly. We are only concerned about the leadership given by the DUP in reaching agreement with ourselves,” he said.

“We are satisfied that a deal can be concluded, the deal needs to be concluded quite quickly and our focus is entirely on making sure the good work and progress that has been made in recent days can be built upon.”

He denied Sinn Fein was under any pressure from any quarter.

“Suffice to say that we fully understand that the people we all represent are very anxious that these institutions are stable, that they operate on the basis that everybody is an equal citizen and we do in here what we were elected to do.”

He added: “Our focus is making sure we can get a deal. We would not be talking at Hillsborough or anywhere else if we didn’t believe that there was a prospect of getting a positive outcome.

“We believe there is a prospect of getting a deal, we are there to get that.”


Meanwhile, amid continuing reports of an internal crisis affecting the DUP, Ulster Unionist Party leader Reg Empey has ruled out a merger between the two parties.

Talks on forming a pan-unionist front involving the British Conservatives, the DUP and the Ulster Unionists began last year at the behest of the anti-Catholic Order Order. The masonic-style talks culminated in high level discussions at Hatfield House outside London last month before they were exposed at a delicate point in the peace process.

Following an angry reaction by some Tories as well as members of his own party, Empey has now rowed back on a merger with the DUP but allowed the possibility of greater co-operation.

Empey said no deal had been made and said the UUP were 100% committed to their existing link with the Conservatives under the UCUNF banner (Unionists and Conservative United/New Force)

An Ulster Unionist Executive meeting on Tuesday night rejected what were described as “bogus unionist unity talks”. It was also agreed to select joint Westminster candidates with the Tories as soon as possible.

Last month, two former Conservative candidates, both Catholics, who may have contested the general election as part of the UUP/Tory pact withdrew their nominations partly because of a possible deal between the Ulster Unionists and DUP. Onf of those who withdrew their nominations, Peter McCann, last night compared the DUP with the neo-fascist BNP (British National Party).

However, the prospect of a significant realignment within unionism remains a strong possibility. The DUP is suffering considerable internal diffif!culty over its ongoing talks with Sinn Fein, with some suggesting that the party could split if a deal is made on the implementation of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

Fourteen DUP Assembly members are understood to have opposed an outline agreement proposed by scandal-hit party leader Peter Robinson on Monday -- some of these could feasibly consider defection to the extreme ‘Traditional Unionist Voice’ party led by Jim Allister.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said reports of ructions within his party were merely “speculation and innuendo” generated by “some sections of the media”.


A loud explosion destroyed perimeter fencing at Oldpark base in north Belfast around 2am last night. A numnber of homes were evacuated in the area today by British Army bomb teams. No group has yet claimed the attack, which caused no injuries, although breakaway IRA groups are understood to be responsible.

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