Page last updated at 14:00 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:00 UK

No agreement on policing budget

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson
Martin McGuinness said there must be a deal before Christmas

Budget talks over the devolution of policing and justice, involving the prime minister and the first and the deputy first ministers, have ended.

Both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said some progress had been made but an overall package had still not been agreed.

It is understood the issues of equal pay and hearing loss claims are a sticking point.

The prime minister is to meet both men again next week.

The first and deputy first ministers had been expected to ask Gordon Brown if he is prepared to fund a budget shortfall estimated to be around £600m.

Officials have been working over the summer on the figures but sources in Belfast said the Treasury has not narrowed the gap sufficiently.

Earlier the Conservative Party's Northern Ireland spokesman warned his party will not give guarantees about funding of policing and justice powers.

Peter Robinson had called on Tory leader David Cameron to approve any financial package offered by the prime minister.

He said there was no point agreeing with one government when another might take over.

However Tory spokesman Owen Paterson said there would be no guarantees.

"We are facing a major economic crisis should we win the next election. We cannot give any guarantees on any spending programmes," Mr Paterson said on Wednesday.

"We will look at the details. All I can assure you is that we will do the right thing for Northern Ireland and that we will be responsible."

'Collapse'

Martin McGuinness warned that the DUP would be making "a huge mistake" unless the party agreed a deal by Christmas.

He said: "My big concern is that if it doesn't happen before Christmas, then it won't happen prior to the next Westminster elections or indeed the next Assembly election and I think that would be a tragedy.

"The DUP as a matter of priority need to move out of the shadow of Jim Allister.

"If they don't then I think we're in big trouble."

Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea said it was his understanding that Sinn Fein was warning of serious consequences, which could include the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly, unless agreement was reached by the end of the year.

He said the situation was "actually a lot more fragile than people think".

However, Mr Robinson said: "There is a possibility of an alternative government and it would be irresponsible of us to simply tie up a deal, as it were, with the present occupant of Downing Street to find that in a year's time everything was to change.

"So I think we would want to have long-term certainty what about our position was going to be."

'Budget shortfall'

The SDLP's justice spokesman, Alban Maginness, said the problem was not one of finance, but was due to the failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein "to reach any agreement on any major issue".

"They are a dysfunctional office in a dysfunctional Executive and they are not delivering to the people of Northern Ireland" he said.

The Northern Ireland security minister Paul Goggins said that dissidents would be the only people to benefit from "undue delay" in the devolution process.

"We should frustrate them by moving, not with undue haste, but properly and confidently to devolved policing and justice powers," he added.



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