Parties hold briefings as power-sharing talks resume

Parties hold briefings as power-sharing talks resume

Democratic Unionist and Sinn Féin leaders are to brief party colleagues at Stormont today after a further session of crunch talks to save the North's power-sharing government.

After hopes for a deal were derailed yesterday by tensions with the DUP, negotiations resumed between the parties and the Irish and British governments at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down, this morning.

Today's party meetings are to begin within minutes at the Assembly and could prove crucial to hopes to rescue a deal on policing, justice and parades.

There were renewed concerns last night that failure to secure agreement could spark a major crisis over the future of the political institutions.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan today urged the parties to find agreement.

"You always have the big problem here that if things don't move forward, do they slide back?" he said.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown were on standby yesterday to travel to Belfast to put their seal on a final deal after both parties reported major progress after a week of round-the-clock discussions.

Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist leaders briefed their Assembly groups at Stormont yesterday morning.

However, after the internal republican talks were swiftly concluded and the DUP discussions ran on for most of the day, details emerged of problems within the unionist camp.

It is now understood that more than a third of DUP members rejected the proposals outlined to them by their leader Mr Robinson, with concerns over Orange Order parades high on the list of concerns.

Today the party was trying to play-down the widespread reports of internal difficulties.

But Mr Durkan drew parallels with an earlier period of the peace process when the then Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble faced constant pressure from hardliners in his party who opposed dealing with republicans, sparking difficulties that were seen by many to have eventually weakened his hand.

"Some of these issues are being treated as if they are the private property of the DUP and some of its more doubting members at that," said Mr Durkan of the current talks.

"It is not the best of way doing things, leaving things resting on the opinions of a few people inside one party.

"We had that problem earlier in this peace process, with things centring on some of the doubters and dissidents within the UUP, and the questions always being asked whether Trimble would prevail against some of their doubts and tactics.

"We don't want to be back into that sort of syndrome."

A DUP spokesman said: "Peter had the unanimous support of the party yesterday to continue working to get the outstanding issues addressed.

"We will not settle for any deal. We want the right deal."

The spokesman claimed the Democratic Unionists were still in talks for the very reason that they were not following Mr Trimble's example.

"Trimble would have collapsed at this stage," he said. "The DUP is holding out for the right deal."

The DUP had been ardent critics of Mr Trimble and eventually replaced the Ulster Unionists as the lead voice in unionism.

Mr Durkan said the current discussions were of major significance to all parties and the wider community, and said they would influence the future of devolved government.

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