Talks resume to save power-sharing government

Talks to save Northern Ireland's power-sharing government resume today with the parties edging closer to a deal on policing, justice and parades.

Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the British and Irish governments believe progress was made last week during a marathon 100 hours of negotiations at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down.

Alliance Party leader David Ford said a breakthrough was tantalisingly close.

"I do not think that any of the parties can allow this effort to fail. We have a duty to the public and they will not accept failure on the part of the DUP and Sinn Fein," he said.

Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched the dialogue last Monday.

Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists disagreed over a solution for dealing with loyal order parades, and the governments threatened to publish their own proposals to break the deadlock.

The six-day negotiations were adjourned on Saturday night with all parties sounding more positive.

The key sticking point was a DUP demand for the abolition of the Parades Commission, which adjudicates on contentious marches, and instead leave it to an independent panel, appointed by the office of the First and Deputy First Minister, to arbitrate. But they also insisted they are open to alternative proposals on parades.

Mr Brown and Mr Cowen failed to secure a deal before leaving the venue on Wednesday. They want the two sides to agree a process to transfer policing powers from London to Belfast by the start of May.

If there was no deal there was a possibility Sinn Fein would walk away, collapsing the power-sharing executive and triggering new Stormont elections.

Mr McGuinness said yesterday: "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."