Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Brown and Cowen head for emergency NI talks

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Irish counterpart Brian Cowen will travel to Belfast this afternoon for emergency talks with Northern Ireland's political leaders.

The two leaders are flying to the region as fears mount that the fragile power sharing institutions could collapse over the ongoing row between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists about the stalled devolution of law and order powers.

"We believe that the problems that exist in devolving policing and justice are soluble problems," Mr Brown said after meeting Mr Cowen at Downing Street.

"We believe it is right for Northern Ireland to move forward in this way and we believe that together we can assist in the completion of these talks."

Speaking as they emerged from talks which lasted around 90 minutes, Mr Brown said the visit had been planned in conversations between the two leaders yesterday.

"While I recognise that there are difficult issues, we believe that these issues can be overcome. So we will together go to Northern Ireland and talk to Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness and talk to other parties in Northern Ireland and we believe there is a chance that progress will be made."

Mr Cowen said the premiers believed their visit "should help bring a conclusion to the devolution issues".

Asked whether they could set a date for the devolution of the issues, Mr Cowen said: "There is no doubt that we need to resolve this matter in a way that would assure that devolution of policing and justice would take place in a specified period.

"We believe that with goodwill and determination and good faith on all sides it should be possible. We believe the outstanding issues are resolvable."

Posed the same question, Mr Brown replied: "We are going to be talking to people this afternoon about all the issues and I believe that the end product will be that devolution of policing and justice will take place."

The two premiers will meet DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Earlier, Mr McGuinness accused the DUP of failing to fulfil its obligations in regard to policing and justice.

Ahead of a lunchtime meeting with Mr Robinson, the senior republican claimed that, while his party had backed new policing structures after the 2006 St Andrews Agreement which paved the way for power-sharing, the DUP had yet to agree to a key element of that accord - namely devolving law and order powers to the Stormont Executive.

The region's largest unionist party has claimed there is still not sufficient community confidence to justify the move.

Specifically, the DUP has demanded changes to the current process of managing contentious parades in Northern Ireland before the transfer of responsibilities from Westminster can go ahead.

But Mr McGuinness said: "Within three months of the St Andrews Agreement we in Sinn Fein moved forward decisively on the issue of policing, took what was considered to be an historic and monumental decision," he said.

"And we did that within three months of St Andrews... to ensure that these institutions would work.

"Three years on, three years on, we are waiting for the DUP to deliver and honour their commitments, that all of us were supposed to have signed up to under the terms of an agreement that was presided over by the Irish government and the British government."

His meeting with Mr Robinson lasted little over half an hour. Neither politician commented in the immediate aftermath.