Page last updated at 18:35 GMT, Sunday, 17 January 2010

Arlene Foster hails positive atmosphere at NI talks

Arlene Foster outside Stormont
Arlene Foster began work as acting first minister last week

DUP acting first minister Arlene Foster has said the crucial issue of parading is being handled in a positive way in her party's talks with Sinn Fein.

Mrs Foster told the BBC there was a good atmosphere surrounding the talks about transferring policing and justice powers from London to Belfast.

Negotiations between the two parties will resume at Stormont on Monday.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the DUP was ready to do a deal because its MLAs were "petrified" of an election.

"Sinn Fein have held a gun to Peter Robinson's head where he has a choice to make - either he rolls over and gives them their demand for policing and justice or he faces the collapse of the assembly and an election," said Mr Allister, a former DUP member who has become the party's arch-critic after quitting over power-sharing.

Arlene Foster's comments have intensified speculation that a deal is imminent

Mrs Foster said: "These are real negotiations being done in a positive way - there is no hype surrounding this, there is no gun to our head.

"This was coming to a head in any event and now we're dealing with these issues."

Mrs Foster began work as acting first minister last week after DUP leader Peter Robinson announced he was standing aside for six weeks to clear his name over an allegation surrounding his wife Iris's financial conduct.

'Good vibes'

In a Sunday Times interview, Mr Robinson set out what he sees as the three crucial issues to be resolved:

  • the identity of a future justice minister;
  • which justice matters should be brought to the power-sharing executive; and
  • how to deal with the tensions over parading.

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Reg Empey said he was reserving judgement on whether to back a possible deal.

"I haven't seen a single sentence of what they're coming up with," he said.

"How can I support something until I see it? We will judge it on its merits."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said it was important that any settlement of the outstanding issues could work in the long term on an all-party basis.

"We want to see devolution happening sooner rather than later," he said.

"If there are all these good vibes out there and new relationships breaking out between the parties, maybe we can get a deal now that won't be a breakdown waiting to happen in a couple of years' time."

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