DUP in bid to secure concessions from London

THE Democratic Unionist Party moved to force last-minute concessions from London last night as the Northern power-sharing crisis reached its endgame.

Freshly re-installed First Minister Peter Robinson tried to hold his fractious party together by seeking new financial “sweeteners” from Northern Secretary Shaun Woodward in order to sign-off on a deal on devolution with Sinn Féin.

Almost two weeks of round-the-clock negotiations between Sinn Féin, the DUP and the two governments ended yesterday when Republicans said it was decision time.

The DUP and Sinn Féin hammered out a deal last weekend on bringing justice and police powers to Belfast in May in return for an overhaul of how Orange Order parades are routed, but loyalist hardliners refused to back Mr Robinson when details were put to them.

The wobble caused Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British Premier Gordon Brown to cancel plans to fly to Belfast last Monday to hail the deal.

Mr Robinson is believed to want extra financial help from London for mortgage-payers hit hard by the slump in the North as a deal “sweetener”.

Mr Cowen and Mr Brown rushed to save the talks last week after Sinn Féin signalled it was ready to collapse power-sharing over policing.

The party’s Gerry Kelly said Sinn Féin remained hopeful of a deal but that the talking was now done. “The negotiations have come to a conclusion. We believe it is a positive conclusion and... the basis on which to move forward,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin said he believed a positive announcement was in the pipeline. “A political agreement sends a clear message to those few who still want to undermine peace that they cannot and will not succeed,” he said.

Mr Robinson’s re-instatement as First Minister is believed to have bolstered his standing with hardliners after he stood aside to allow an investigation into allegations he behaved improperly over the way his wife Iris secured £50,000 from property developers to fund her then 19-year-old lover’s business. An internal inquiry cleared Mr Robinson of any wrong doing.

The scale of the DUP rebellion over the deal agreed with Sinn Féin last weekend surprised many observers as 14 of the party’s 36 Assembly members voted against accepting it.

If a deal is not agreed in the next few days, early elections for the Assembly are likely.


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