Page last updated at 05:59 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Northern Ireland justice talks go on through the night

Micheal Martin and Shaun Woodward
Micheal Martin and Shaun Woodward are leading the talks on Thursday

All-party talks to try to save the power-sharing coalition in Northern Ireland went on until the early hours at Hillsborough Castle.

The UK and Irish governments say they will publish proposals on policing and justice if the parties cannot agree.

The discussions are being chaired by UK Secretary of State Shaun Woodward and Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin.

A meeting between the main coalition partners, the DUP and Sinn Fein, was described as "frank but professional".

The prospect of the British and Irish governments publishing their own proposals has spurred the parties into action, said the BBC's Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson.

Earlier, Alliance Party leader David Ford denied politicians were merely "going through the motions".

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey reflected on the fact that, while politicians continued to talk, people outside were losing their jobs.

Referring to the announcement that 210 jobs were being lost at a drill bit company in east Belfast, he said: "If ever there was an example of the disconnect between politics and the experience of people in their everyday lives, today's announcement was clearly evidence of that.

"It's a matter of very deep regret that all these manufacturing jobs are being lost."

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, who is not taking part in the talks, accused Sinn Fein of having an "insatiable agenda for destabilisation and conflict".

"The manner in which Sinn Fein seeks to advance its agenda, not through accepting the processes within devolution, but by loading its gun to the DUP's head with every pet project, is a reminder that even if the present Stormont crisis is sorted, Sinn Fein will be back for more and more," he said.

At a round-table session on Thursday afternoon, the talks were widened to consider the problems at the heart of the executive.

Parades issue

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams reiterated that devolution of policing and justice and controversial Orange Order parades could not be linked.

He was speaking before briefing party officers on the state of the talks.

Mr Adams said there was still a lot of work to be done.

"Anybody who thinks that the price of policing and justice is a walk down the Garvaghy Road or Ardoyne is just ridiculous," he said.

DUP MLA Sammy Wilson said that his party was focused on resolving the parading issue.

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams said devolution of the powers could not be linked to the issue of parades

He added that the party believed disputes were best resolved at "a local level" but that there needed to be a mechanism in place to allow that to happen.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the talks were making more progress than they had on Wednesday, when the British and Irish prime ministers left Hillsborough without a deal.

Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen left Hillsborough, after hosting two marathon days and nights of intense political negotiations over the issue which has threatened the stability of power-sharing at Stormont.

Churches' support

The two biggest political parties in Northern Ireland, the DUP and Sinn Fein, have been arguing over the timetable for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to locally elected politicians for months.

Before leaving Northern Ireland on Wednesday, the British and Irish prime ministers said they believed there was a "firm basis" for the parties to set a date in early May for the devolution of policing and justice and to "enhance the existing framework to deal more effectively with contentious parades".

The issue of parades has caused friction in the negotiations, with Sinn Fein complaining that the DUP had made the abolition of the Parades Commission a "pre-condition" to a deal on policing and justice.

Late on Wednesday night, the leaders of Ireland's four main churches called on all the political parties to redouble their efforts to reach a settlement.

Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop Alan Harper, Presbyterian Moderator Dr Stafford Carson and Methodist President the Rev Donald Ker said they believed that "the people of Northern Ireland expect their representatives to ensure that agreement is reached".

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