Page last updated at 18:41 GMT, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

DUP's Foster hopes for Stormont breakthrough

Arlene Foster of the DUP
Arlene Foster took over as acting first minister from Peter Robinson

The DUP and Sinn Fein are working to fit "the last piece in the jigsaw" to resolve the Stormont deadlock, acting first minister Arlene Foster has said.

DUP MPs Nigel Dodds, Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell have held talks with PM Gordon Brown about devolving policing and justice powers to NI.

NI Secretary Shaun Woodward has urged unionists to reach a deal.

Mrs Foster said the police were already accountable and the DUP must ensure any deal was done "in the right way".

"I believe it will be for the best for the people of Northern Ireland, but we must do it in a way that we bring it to a Northern Ireland that is stable so the policing powers that come here will be durable and lasting," the DUP assembly member told the BBC.

It's a very important time for all unionists to realise that now is the time to complete devolution
Shaun Woodward
NI secretary

"Our chief constable would say he's already the most accountable chief constable in these islands.

"There is a lot of devolved power already in Northern Ireland in relation to policing and justice - this is really the last piece of the jigsaw and we want to make sure that we're doing it in the right way."

Mrs Foster took over as acting first minister after DUP leader Peter Robinson announced on Monday he was stepping aside for six weeks to clear his name over an allegation surrounding his wife Iris's personal and financial conduct.

Party colleague Nelson McCausland said Mr Robinson would return "within days" as the DUP's chief negotiator in the talks, while it is believed he is being kept "in the loop" about how things are progressing.

Discussions between the parties have been fractious in recent months, but the mood in these latest talks has been more upbeat.

'Sensitive stage'

On Tuesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward urged unionists to reach a deal, saying the lack of agreement had created a "vacuum" which was being exploited by dissident republicans.

Sinn Fein has warned in recent weeks that progress needs to be made quickly or the power-sharing government could collapse.

Gerry Adams said on Tuesday evening that the talks were at a "sensitive and serious stage".

The question of how to deal with Orange Order parades is believed to be a sticking point.

The DUP wants to replace the Parades Commission, which adjudicates on the routes of contentious marches, with an alternative body along the lines of interim proposals by a group headed by Lord Ashdown. This has been resisted by Sinn Fein.

It is thought the DUP and Sinn Fein could try to reach a compromise position or agree to deal with the issue in the future.

6 January: Peter Robinson says his wife Iris tried to take her own life last March after admitting an affair with teenager Kirk McCambley
7 January: BBC's Spotlight reveals details of Iris Robinson's financial affairs - she obtained £50,000 from two property developers to help her lover launch a café and asked him for £5,000 for herself
10 January: DUP says Iris Robinson is receiving acute psychiatric treatment
11 January: Peter Robinson steps aside from his role as first minister for a six-week period - DUP colleague Arlene Foster becomes acting first minister amid renewed focus on resolving her party's problems with Stormont power-sharing colleagues Sinn Fein

Mrs Foster is due to meet representatives from the nationalist SDLP and cross-community Alliance Party later on Wednesday. She will meet the UUP on Thursday.

UUP leader Sir Reg Empey said on Tuesday his party would have to see the shape of a deal on policing and justice before committing to supporting it.

He added that he was very concerned that any agreement could appear that it has been negotiated by the DUP under duress.

On Wednesday, Sir Reg was accused of being "irresponsible and short-sighted" by Alliance Party leader David Ford.

"He is cynically using the current impasse to play unionist power games at the expense of the peace process," said Mr Ford, who has been tipped as a future justice minister.

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