Page last updated at 18:51 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Justice devolution deal possible as talks continue

Mr Robinson said there were still some issues to be resolved

The DUP and Sinn Fein have said they are close to a deal on devolution of justice powers as talks continue.

The parties said that although some issues remained to be dealt with, they were confident of reaching agreement.

A DUP source said internal party talks had been fruitful and insisted "there was no issue that could not be resolved".

Meetings between the parties and representatives of the governments are continuing at Stormont.

Plans for a return visit by the British and Irish prime ministers were put on hold as the DUP took longer on a negotiated package than anticipated.

Sinn Fein and the DUP have been arguing over the timing of the transfer of justice powers to Belfast.

Sinn Fein wants the powers transferred immediately.

martina purdy
Martina Purdy, BBC NI political correspondent

Even if the DUP assembly team says yes to the deal, there will have to be a process of consultation, possibly through the Northern Ireland Executive.

It's thought there are four aspects to the deal: devolving justice powers, the role of the justice minister, the Irish language and parading.

An Irish language strategy rather than new legislation is thought to be the compromise, and it's expected there will be references to shared future and difficulties around the functioning of the Executive.

DUP assembly members have been going through the package line-by-line, and it's pretty clear they are not as happy as Sinn Fein.

The DUP has said that can only happen when there is "community confidence" among unionists.

Sinn Fein's MLAs and other senior party figures, including TD Martin Ferris, met for around an hour on Monday and indications were that the party was happy enough.

However, DUP sources have told the BBC there are outstanding issues that need to be pinned down around justice and parading.

'No sticking points'

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said on Monday evening that a number of issues still had to be resolved but they were confident of reaching a deal.

"There are no sticking points - we are close to conclusion," he said.

First Minister Questions at the Northern Ireland Assembly was postponed as speculation mounted that a deal on policing and justice powers was close.

There was also an expectation that Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen may have come back to Hillsborough Castle to sign off on the deal and preparations were made for such a scenario.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband let slip in the Commons that Mr Brown had postponed a visit to Northern Ireland on Monday.

Asked where Mr Brown was, Mr Miliband said: "He's in Northern Ireland actually."

He later corrected his comments after being handed a note from officials, telling MPs: "Although I had been reliably informed that the Prime Minister was on his way to Belfast, it now transpires that he is not on his to way to Belfast because the situation in the... for various reasons which I won't go into actually."

One DUP source suggested that there would be no resolution before Tuesday.

The DUP and Sinn Fein spent last week in deadlock, with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness thought to be on the verge of resigning as deputy first minister.

However, Mr McGuinness said on Sunday the parties had made "considerable progress" and expressed hope there was now a basis "upon which nationalists, republicans, unionists and loyalists can move forward together".

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the public should be consulted on any deal "and then give a response that allows us to say whether we proceed or don't".

The talks represent the longest period of sustained negotiations since the peace process began in the 1990s.

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