Hope for policing deal as Robinson resumes his role
Move to bolster First Minister as talks enter day 10
DUP leader Peter Robinson last night resumed his role as Northern Ireland's First Minister. The development makes a policing deal with Sinn Fein more likely.
Mr Robinson returned to the position after a top lawyer said the DUP leader had not breached the ministerial code of conduct.
The move is expected to bolster Mr Robinson's authority with his 36 DUP Assembly members (MLAs) when he meets them today, as negotiations on the devolution of policing and justice enter a 10th day.
It has also raised hopes that he can persuade the 14 DUP MLAs who voted against his proposals on Monday to back the deal that he provisionally agreed with Sinn Fein at the weekend.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin left Hillsborough last night for appointments in London. While there, he will meet the British foreign minister David Miliband.
A spokesman for Mr Martin said there were no fixed plans to return to Belfast but that they would be constantly monitoring the situation there and could get back very quickly if required.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen is also on standby to travel to Belfast in the event of a deal being struck.
Mr Cowen said inch-by-inch progress was being made in the talks and that he believed there was a firm basis for the parties to set a date for the devolution of justice and policing powers.
"Obviously they are taking longer than may have been anticipated," said the Taoiseach, "but they are ongoing and seek to narrow their differences."
Earlier yesterday, Northern Secretary Shaun Woodward warned that if no agreement was reached in the next few days, the North could lose the £800m (€915m) promised by British prime minister Gordon Brown.
The two governments are clearly running out of patience. Mr Woodward told the House of Commons yesterday: "Failure to make progress would not be rewarded."
Mr Robinson welcomed the detailed advice from senior crown counsel Paul Maguire. He said the opinion supported his own consistent view that he had acted properly in relation to financial dealings between his wife Iris and her then teenage lover, Kirk McCambley.
The DUP leader added that if the other investigations also vindicated him, then he would consider what legal action he would take against the BBC and others.
A statement from the BBC last night said the corporation was standing by its 'Spotlight' programme, which first highlighted Mrs Robinson's relationship with Mr McCambley.
A criminal investigation into allegations made against Mr Robinson and his wife in the programme is currently being conducted by the PSNI.
Another inquiry by the Assembly's Standards and Privileges Committee has been suspended, pending the results of the police investigation.
Senior figures in the DUP yesterday played down the result of a secret ballot on Monday night, when 14 of the party's 36 MLAs voted against Mr Robinson's proposals.
Gregory Campbell, who is a Westminster MP and a former minister in the Executive, is the most senior member of the party to speak against an early devolution of policing.
He said yesterday: "What's more important is getting to the endgame rather than saying that it all has to be done by Thursday night."
Mr Campbell and a number of the party's Westminster MPs are said to have been among the 40pc of the DUP's MLAs who voted against Mr Robinson's proposals on Monday.