North warned failure to get deal will hit economy hard
NORTHERN Ireland's squabbling parties were warned last night of the grave economic consequences of failing to strike a deal on the transfer of policing powers.
The Irish and British governments allowed the deadline for the end of talks to pass in the hope of an agreement.
After five days of negotiations at Hillsborough Castle, all sides were still expecting the talks to go into the early hours of this morning.
Officials at the talks believed there might be some developments by this afternoon.
The sticking point remained the DUP demands for the abolition of the watchdog body which adjudicates on contentious parades.
Sinn Fein and the DUP were involved in talks throughout the day with each having their own draft of an agreement for working on. Taoiseach Brian Cowen was closely monitoring the situation from Government Buildings.
Mr Cowen was in continual telephone contact with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown throughout the day.
The governments had indicated they would publish their proposals, pending a progress report yesterday.
But the leaders decided to allow the parties to continue as talks were progressing.
The Taoiseach and Mr Brown were available to head to Hillsborough -- but only if their presence would help to bring a conclusion.
But the governments were aware the real deal-making would have to be done by the DUP and Sinn Fein. And the governments were anxious for the parties to hammer out the deal themselves.
The 48-hour deadline, which appeared to be set by Mr Cowen and Mr Brown on Wednesday, was allowed to slide as they held back from their threat to publish their own proposals.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin and Northern Secretary Shaun Woodward continued to convene the talks.
Mr Cowen cancelled a constituency visit to Meath yesterday to stay in contact with the negotiations.
But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's adviser on the North warned failure to strike a deal would have an economic impact. US Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly, warned the consequences for the North's economy would be serious in the short and long-term if no deal emerges from the discussions. But parades are still the dividing point between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
The largest unionist party wants the Parades Commission replaced by an independent arbitration panel, appointed by the office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
But DUP leader Peter Robinson said his party was willing to do business but not interested in deadlines. He felt progress had been made during the talks, while there were still issues to be resolved.
Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said the DUP's "foolish demand" on scrapping the parades body was stalling the process and was only being put at the behest of the Orange Order.
The British government said Mr Brown wanted the parties to thrash out the details of an agreement among themselves.
"The prime minister and the Taoiseach made it very clear that today is the day for a progress report," a spokesman said. "It's a good sign that discussions are continuing."