Bush raises deadlock over policing powers in the North

Deadlock over the transfer of policing powers to the North again came under the spotlight today after it was raised by President George Bush.

Mr Bush confirmed he raised the issue that divides the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin leaderships during his private talks with the parties at Stormont.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is also understood to have held separate talks with the DUP and Sinn Féin on the fringe of today’s meeting.

Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson, together with Deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin representative Martin McGuinness, jointly hosted Mr Bush for talks at Stormont Castle.

They held discussions on the economy which included Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

But later Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness confirmed the President also raised the issue of policing powers.

Mr Robinson said: “The president raised the issue of policing and justice and from our manifesto this isn’t something we have a difficulty with... this is something we want to achieve, this is a unionist thing.”

In a reference to the original collapse of unionist government at Stormont in the early 1970s, he added: “There was a prime minister in this building (Stormont parliament buildings) who gave up having devolution because they took policing and justice away from him.

“So having policing and justice isn’t the problem, it’s the form that policing and justice takes and who will be responsible for policing and justice.”

He said the confidence of the community must be strengthened on the issue.

“Confidence of the community can only be assessed properly when the community knows what the structure is and (who) is going to be in charge of it.”

Mr McGuinness said Mr Bush told the parties he saw the transfer of policing and justice powers as an important issue.

“I think he was very strong,” said Mr McGuinness.

“And I think that all of us who spoke to him understood that he regarded this as a very important issue to be resolved.

“Now I think also that Peter Robinson and I are charged with the responsibility as First and Deputy First Minister to take much of this work forward.

“And what we have to do is work out the best way forward which will see that important function transferred to the government... in the short term as opposed to the long term.”

It is understood Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams took part in separate talks with Mr Brown in Stormont Castle, when the Prime Minister met the leaderships of both parties to discuss policing powers and other issues dividing them including the introduction of an Irish language act.

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