Page last updated at 23:19 GMT, Thursday, 4 February 2010

DUP MLAs meeting at Stormont to discuss deal

DUP team at Stormont
A deal will need to have the agreement of DUP assembly members

DUP assembly members are meeting at Stormont to consider the latest details of a proposed devolution deal.

Earlier the DUP negotiating team returned to Hillsborough to meet with Secretary of State Shaun Woodward to discuss a number of outstanding issues.

It is understood the British and Irish prime ministers may travel to NI on Friday if they feel a deal is close.

On Thursday night Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin cut short a trip to London to travel to Belfast.

It is understood the DUP want the plight of savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society to be included in a deal.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots refused to confirm or deny the suggestion.

Last month the Presbyterian moderator said such a government initiative would help build confidence among unionists.

Almost 10,000 people who saved with the society were left without access to their money when it went into administration in October 2008.

The government has consistently refused to offer its savers the same protection that was afforded to savers with banks and building societies during the banking crisis.

'Basis for deal'

Earlier on Thursday it emerged that policing and justice powers could be transferred to Northern Ireland in April if the DUP and Sinn Fein are able to reach a deal.

Sinn Fein said talks with the DUP have ended and the basis for a deal exists.

Mr Poots said his party was still in discussions with the government but that a deal could be concluded by the end of the week.

ANALYSIS
Mark Devenport
Mark Devenport, BBC NI political editor

All the signs are that the pieces have now fallen into place, which obviously involves a justice date, probably now in April, and alongside it some kind of move towards reforming the marching structures.

Obviously it will be a tough decision for the DUP to take. They have to make a decision they can defend in front of the electorate.

They have been quite keen on making sure that TUV criticism that Sinn Fein will have control of the justice minister, will be nullified by the kind of stringent constraints they are putting on the justice minister.

Any deal will need to have the agreement of DUP assembly members.

Mr Poots also shed light on how long a public consultation promised by his party after any deal might take.

"One would anticipate that if we are going to go to the country, if we are going to seek their views on this matter, then that would certainly take up to a month," he said.

Earlier sources told the BBC that if there was a deal, the transfer of powers could happen in April.

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said: "That's earlier than the May date previously predicted, there had been concerns that this date would fall too close to polling day in the Westminster elections."

Election

Talks between the British and Irish governments, Sinn Fein and the DUP have been going on for the last 10 days.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey the government would call a snap NI Assembly election rather than just suspending the institutions if the talks failed and the NI Executive collapsed.

The relationship between Sinn Fein and the DUP - Northern Ireland's two biggest political parties - has been strained for some time because they disagree about the timetable for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont.

Sinn Fein wants the completion of devolution to happen as soon as possible, but the DUP argues there must be unionist "community confidence" before powers are put in the hands of local politicians.

The "confidence" issue causing most division is over the handling of loyalist parades.



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