North deal within reach but obstacles remain

A LANDMARK deal to save power-sharing and effectively fulfil the Good Friday Agreement appeared to be finally within reach last night.

After another day of knife-edge negotiations which again saw Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown clear their diaries and go on stand-by to rush to Belfast to proclaim a moment of history, lastditch disagreements threw the process off course once more.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams’ reference to the transfer of powers to Belfast as a “staging post” provoked anger among hard-core unionists.

After more than 100 hours of negotiations, the timing of transferring policing and justice powers from London to Belfast remained the key blockage.

Unionists insisted any agreement would have to go out to the wider community for consultation and approval. Moves to push the Irish language via legislation look set to be watered down.

DUP leader Peter Robinson struggled to secure his party's support for the deal as some hardliners threatened resignation during stormy meetings behind closed doors.

“We are determined to make the institutions work. We don’t believe that we should be operating on the basis of any threat to collapse the institutions,” he said.

Speaking to RTÉ, Mr Adams said: “After the first 70 or 80 hours... it was like playing a game of hurling. We were able, I think, to have control of the pitch, to have game on with the DUP, and that has continued for the last 20 or 30 hours of engagement.”

The Sinn Féin leader conceded republicans had given ground on the way parade routes will be decided, but insisted no one would be able to march down flash-points like the Gavaghy Road without the approval of residents.

In London, a red-faced Mr Miliband had to backtrack after wrongly telling the House of Commons Mr Brown had gone to Belfast: “Although I had been reliably informed that the Prime Minister was on his way to Belfast, it now transpires that he is not on his way to Belfast... for various reasons which I won’t go into actually. But I apologise for having got that wrong earlier on.”


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