Parties wrangle as power-sharing deadline looms

Negotiations continue in the North today, before a crucial decision on power-sharing.

Negotiations continue in the North today, before a crucial decision on power-sharing.

Members of the DUP’s 120-strong executive will also meet tomorrow in Belfast, in what has been billed as a crucial debate on power-sharing proposals.

But with the British government insisting the DUP must nominate ministers to a devolved executive on Monday if the North’s Assembly is to remain intact, the Rev Ian Paisley’s party is still looking for clarification on the issue of Sinn Féin’s attitude to policing and on Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown’s multi-billion economic package for a new Stormont government.

Mr Paisley and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams received telephone calls yesterday from US president George Bush urging them to take the final step towards devolution.

With Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair adamant that there must be a devolved government appointed next week, the DUP has been pressing for time to elapse before the new executive becomes fully functional.

It is understood that during talks in London in the past two days, the party has been reluctant to have a full meeting of the new executive if it is formed next week.

However it has also been mooted that if the executive meets within 48 hours of its appointment on Monday, there would be an eight-week gap between the next meeting to enable the new ministers to bed down in their new roles.

Gordon Brown yesterday unveiled plans for £1bn (€1.47bn) in additional funding on top of £35bn (€51.5bn) already pledged to a new executive over the next four years.

The Irish Government is providing €590m of the extra funds.

The British government has also signed a retail consortium agreement involving Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, B & Q and Marks & Spencer to create 5,000 jobs in the North.

And while he did not slash corporation tax in the North to 12.5%, he announced plans for the former head of the UK's Inland Revenue David Varney to head a review of future taxation policy in the North.

It is believed the additional £1bn (€1.47bn) will be used to stop plans for the introduction of water charges on April 1 in the North.

The UK Treasury also agreed to sever the link between the borrowing of low-interest loans for the Northern Ireland Executive and the raising of extra revenue through local taxation including rates hikes and water charges.

The link with local taxation was used by the British government to justify the introduction of water charges in the North which have been criticised by the bulk of rate-payers.

If no executive is formed on Monday, the Assembly will close down and Mr Brown’s economic package will be withdrawn.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain will be looking for a clear indication from the DUP by midnight tomorrow that it is prepared to nominate Mr Paisley as the First Minister of the new executive alongside Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister.

Mr Paisley is expected to address the Federation of Small Business national conference at Belfast Waterfront Hall today, in a speech which will be analysed for any clues about how what his party may do on Monday.

Sinn Féin’s economic spokesman Mitchel McLaughlin and the shadow chancellor George Osborne will also address the conference.

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