Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Friday, 4 December 2009

DUP leader rejects McGuinness' Christmas deadline

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness
Peter Robinson said he would not be rushed by Martin McGuinness' deadline

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP has rejected Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein's Christmas deadline to resolve their differences.

Mr McGuinness, who is deputy First Minister, warned of an impending "full-blown crisis" in Stormont.

The two parties have been arguing for months over the transfer of justice and policing powers from London to Belfast.

Mr Robinson said the issues "needed to be properly dealt with" before the powers could be devolved to Stormont.

"From the point of view of the whole community, it would be madness for us to simply dash to the line for the sake of some date set by Sinn Fein alone without getting the outstanding issues resolved - you deal with the issues," he said.

He was responding to earlier comments by Mr McGuinness who said: "If we don't get a date for transfer of power of policing and justice before Christmas to be effective in the new year, I do think we are in an unsustainable position.

BBC Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson
Mark Simpson, BBC Ireland correspondent

The current power-sharing arrangements at Stormont are facing their biggest test.

At stake is the future of devolution. The sticking point is when policing and justice powers should be transferred from London to Belfast.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has now effectively set a New Year deadline.

Although Northern Ireland's recent history is littered with missed deadlines, this one is not impossible.

Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists are still talking, and, crucially, they both want power-sharing to work.

However, the argument is not about power - it's about sharing.

This is where it gets tricky.

With a UK general election looming neither party wants to be seen giving ground. But without a new-found spirit of compromise, a deal cannot be done.

Like the Christmas decorations, the Stormont Assembly could be coming down in the new year.

"We would then be moving from what is a very serious situation into a full-blown crisis."

Mr Robinson said he did not know what to make of Mr McGuinness' remarks and said it would be a "massive mistake" if he resigned as deputy First Minister.

He said he thought they were making progress, only to find Mr McGuinness was "ratcheting up the threat levels once more".

"How can you do business when somebody behaves in that way?" he said.

"Trying to hike up a crisis isn't going to help anybody to resolve these issues."

The transfer of policing and justice powers is often referred to as the last piece of the devolution jigsaw.

The government has agreed a funding package thought to be in the region of £800m to fund the transfer.

The first and deputy first ministers have written to assembly members inviting them to nominate candidates for the post of justice minister by next week.

The letter from Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness made it clear they will not pick one of their own party members, and the leader of the cross-community Alliance Party has been widely tipped to take the job.


Earlier on Friday, Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward said he was still hopeful a deal would be reached shortly.

"Only yesterday (Thursday) the first minister and deputy first minister sent letters to all the other party leaders in Northern Ireland, asking them to nominate a justice minister; and of course this week, the Stormont Assembly completed the passage of a bill to create the new justice department," he said.

"Now we will now go on and get Royal Assent for that bill.

"So I see real progress being made here and I think that in the coming weeks it will be possible to achieve those last parts of the package that will allow devolution to go through for policing and justice."

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