Government intervention over the stalled Northern Irish Stormont talks on policing and justice powers is likely to move a step closer today when the British and Irish prime ministers meet in London.
Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen are expected to reiterate that the deadlock can only be broken by Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) themselves — but stress London and Dublin remain ready to help prevent stalemate turning into disaster.
The premiers will probably await the outcome of a face-to-face meeting between DUP leader Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness which could lead to the resumption of negotiations broken off last Wednesday.
Mr Cowen said yesterday the ideal situation was for Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to come towards agreement on the outstanding issues, which include a mechanism to deal with parades disputes, along with the other political parties.
But speaking on RTE, he added that the governments had a responsibility as guarantors of the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements to ensure their implementation, which includes devolution of policing and justice.
Mr Cowen, who will be joined at the talks by his Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin, has spoken to Mr McGuinness on a number of occasions over the weekend.
Sinn Fein asked for the “critical and defining” head-to-head between Robinson and McGuinness after a meeting of its ard chomhairle (executive) in Dublin on Saturday to assess whether agreement on a date for the transfer of responsibilities over police, courts and the prison service will prove possible in the immediate future.
The DUP said it remained available for meetings but no formal request from Sinn Fein had been received. The meeting between the Stormont ‘top two' could still go ahead at some point today.
With little prospect of further progress in the short term, however, the governments are likely to have to launch another devolution rescue mission, with premiers Brown and Cowen flying into Belfast, perhaps as early as later this week.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams also called on the governments unilaterally to name a date for the handover of justice powers from Westminster — and said there were deeper structural problems in the “dysfunctional” Office of First and Deputy First Minister.
Mr Adams made clear he had no reason to expect up-coming talks to be any more successful than the eight days of negotiations which followed Mr Robinson's decision to stand aside as First Minister for six weeks. The DUP leader has been replaced by Arlene Foster to focus on the fall-out from allegations over his wife Iris' financial dealings with her former young lover, her health and wellbeing and management of her withdrawal from public life — as well as leading the talks.
“What we are about is fixing the problems and returning to the basis upon which these institutions were established — the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrews Agreement,” the West Belfast MP said. “If that is not possible then no self respecting public representative or political party would want to be part of what would be nothing less than a charade.”
Sinn Fein's team pulled out of the talks to report to its office board on Thursday which then called the ard chomhairle meeting at Dublin airport, with the prospect that Mr McGuinness could resign as Deputy First Minister.
But instead the party stopped short of the ‘nuclear option' and opted instead to maintain pressure on the DUP and the two governments, while keeping its political powder dry for another day.
Source: The Belfast Telegraph