Monday 27 March 2017

DUP wants Presbyterian society bailout in return for policing deal

Fiach Kelly, Fionnan Sheahan and Sam Smyth

THE DUP was last night looking for added sweeteners from the British government to sign up to a policing deal with Sinn Fein.

In an hour-long meeting with government representatives at Hillsborough Castle, the party was understood to be seeking additional concessions, mainly a bailout for the Presbyterian Mutual Society, which crashed leaving 10,000 savers short of £70m (€80m).

Sources said the meeting did not represent a further negotiation but instead involved an effort to provide clarity on British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's offer of £800m (€918m) to fund devolution.

The largest unionist party is deeply divided over the policing deal but the inclusion of a bailout would bolster Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Peter Robinson's proposals to his party.

The DUP was expected to meet for a second time late last night for further discussions.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Mr Brown are expected, once again, to travel to Belfast today to sign off on an agreement for the devolution of policing powers.

Sinn Fein announced last night that after 10 days of talks, the negotiations to save Northern Ireland's power sharing government had ended.

The party's junior minister Gerry Kelly said the basis for a deal now existed.

It was not clear last night if Mr Robinson would go to Downing Street today to press the case with Mr Brown.

But the British government would not want to set a precedent by bailing out a Northern mutual society for fear of getting similar pleas from other hard cases in Britain.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin, who flew back to Belfast last night, said a deal on policing and justice in the North could be struck, but the internal politics of the various parties must be overcome.

And he said both major political parties in Britain would support whatever deal emerged from the marathon two-week talks.



Progress

"I think there has been very significant progress made on the talks at Hillsborough and between the parties on the key issue of the devolution of policing and justice," Mr Martin said.

"Obviously it's a matter now for the internal processes of the respective parties to consider the agreement that is on the table. We would be hoping that the parties can approve of the work that has been undertaken over the last 10 days in terms of reaching a resolution on policing and related issues."

The prospects were there for a successful outcome but he didn't "want to pre-empt the kind of discussions the parties will be having on the substance of a deal".

It is understood that the parades commission will be reformed in some way as part of any deal. Mr Martin met with his British counterpart, David Miliband, and Britain's shadow foreign secretary, William Hague of the Tories, in London yesterday as talks in Hillsborough continued.

Mr Martin said he was heartened to hear that both the Labour Party and the Conservatives said they would support whatever deal emerged from the current talks.

Irish Independent

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