Robinson leads DUP team as SF talks hit critical phase
DUP LEADER Peter Robinson last night headed up his party's negotiating team as it met Sinn Fein for crunch talks on the devolution of policing and justice in the North .
Mr Robinson stood down as the North's First Minister earlier this week amid the controversy caused by the sex-and-money scandal surrounding his wife, Iris.
Although he has been temporarily replaced by Arlene Foster in the role of first minister, he remained on as party leader and last night took charge of the DUP team as the crunch negotiations reached a critical stage.
He arrived in Stormont last night in his first public appearance since stepping aside as first minister.
The talks followed an hour- long meeting in London yesterday between Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the issue.
At a news conference in Downing Street, the leaders said neither government was contemplating that the talks would fail. It is feared the fragile institutions of government in Stormont could collapse if there is no resolution to the current impasse.
"We believe that any issues that remain to be resolved are capable of being resolved," Mr Cowen said.
Since most other comments on the discussions were at least mildly optimistic, hopes have grown that the deadlock can be broken and relations improved.
Although the Robinson scandal has produced many days of instability, it appears to have galvanised the DUP, in particular, toward resolving the months- long impasse surrounding the devolution of policing powers.
The Taoiseach said the devolution of policing and justice would lead to a stable political future in the North.
He added that he did not want to comment on the personal circumstances of the Robinson family, but said he wished them well.
Mr Brown described current events as a "period of great turbulence" in politics in the North and said that both governments had been engaged with the latest negotiations, particularly in the past week.
However, he said that the current impetus on policing and justice was caused by months and years of hard work, rather than the scandal surrounding the Robinsons.
"We always knew there was going to be a time when we had to move things forward and I am pleased that the parties themselves are now talking in detail," Mr Brown said.
The prime minister said it was clear that both parties were serious about the issue and said that the British government's £800m (€900m) offer to set up a Department of Justice showed that it was committed, too.
Mr Cowen said that it was now time "for the Assembly and the executive to act".
"We are encouraged that serious negotiations are continuing between the parties, and both governments will do all we can to assist them in reaching a successful outcome.
"The issues have been under discussion for some time and, in our view, are ready for agreement and resolution," he added.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said efforts were being made to reach agreement but he would not be drawn on specifics and would not comment on speculation that how to deal with Orange Order marches was a sticking point.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said a meeting of the party's Ard Comhairle would not be held until the party's negotiating team was ready to report on the current talks.