Page last updated at 09:09 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Assembly elections called if NI Executive falls - PM

Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown briefed Sir Reg Empey on the justice deal

The government will call an NI Assembly election rather than just suspending the institutions if the executive falls over failure to agree a policing deal.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown made the comment in a telephone call to UUP leader Sir Reg Empey on Tuesday.

Mr Brown said the deal under discussion addressed UUP concerns on the "dysfunctionality" of the executive.

The talks at Hillsborough Castle on the devolution of justice and policing power continued late into Tuesday.

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.

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

On Wednesday, the Irish News named six DUP assembly members it said were not prepared to accept the deal in its current form and added that a further eight voted no in a secret ballot on a devolution deal.

DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said there was no division within the assembly group and that it had not voted on any deal.

"The reality is that the party is unanimous, united, totally united in where we are at the moment with these negotiations," he said.

"... Nobody rejected a deal because we have not yet reached a deal there are some outstanding issues that have yet to be resolved ... the negotiation team have kept us up to date on where we are with the discussions."

On Tuesday, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the party had given "total support" to its leadership on outstanding issues over the devolution of justice powers.

However, Mr Dodds did not deny a BBC report that 14 MLAs voted against the Hillsborough proposals in a secret ballot on Monday.

He said Peter Robinson was a "first class unionist leader" who enjoyed the "full support" of the party.

The talks now appear likely to go on until the end of the week.

An internal DUP meeting on Monday was said to have been stormy, with a secret ballot ending in a 60/40 split in favour of the deal.

Mr Dodds said "speculation and innuendo" was being peddled by "some sections of the media". He denied some members had threatened to resign.

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

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