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Last Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006, 16:05 GMT
No agreement at policing meeting
PSNI patrol
Politicians debated what will happen over policing
Politicians have failed to reach agreement on policing and justice in the first meeting of a new Stormont sub-committee on the issue.

The DUP maintain that Sinn Fein must support policing and justice before a date can be set for devolving these powers to Northern Ireland's parties.

But Sinn Fein insist on the transfer of powers before they can support police.

Speaking after the meeting, Ulster Unionist Fred Cobain said the stalemate may put the assembly's future at risk.

"The Democratic Unionist Party have made their position absolutely clear, through a number of spokesmen, that devolution of policing and justice won't happen for a political generation," he said.

"If that's the case, at the end of the day I don't see much future for the assembly.

"I think tensions are going to rise quite quickly in the committee if that issue is not resolved."

Devolution programme

The policing and justice subcommittee, which also involves the Ulster Unionists and SDLP, is one of six groups designed to forge a devolution programme.

The committee is working against the clock to overcome the deadlock on policing before the dissolution of the assembly at the end of January.

The deadline for devolution is 26 March, with fresh assembly elections set for 7 March.

Sinn Fein is refusing to hold a special ard fheis (party conference) on policing until the DUP agrees a date for the transfer of policing powers for the assembly.

The party also wants agreement on a new policing and justice department and has concerns about the proposed role for MI5.

The DUP has firmly resisted giving a date for the transfer of policing powers.

Before the meeting, the SDLP's Alex Attwood described the stand-off between the two parties as a "sham fight".

He claimed substantive policing powers were already devolved and hoped progress could be made quickly.

DUP opposition

Meanwhile, UK Unionist leader Robert McCartney addressed a public meeting in Portadown on Thursday night called to harness opposition from within the DUP to the St Andrews Agreement.

About 80 people gathered in Carleton Street Orange Hall to hear Mr McCartney claim the DUP was guilty of political blackmail.

"I cannot convey to you how sick to the pit of my stomach I feel each time I realise the magnitude of that betrayal and the fact they will actually use that betrayal to squeeze votes out of the unionist community," he said.


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