The North’s main political parties are set for more talks today as efforts intensify to finally resolve the long-running dispute over the devolution of policing powers.
As the reverberations of the scandal involving First Minister Peter Robinson’s wife Iris continue to shudder through Stormont, Sinn Féin and DUP representatives will resume negotiations amid hopes the partners in the power-sharing administration are edging toward a deal.
On Monday DUP leader Mr Robinson’s sensationally announced he was temporarily stepping down as First Minister in a bid to clear his name of allegations he was aware his wife failed to declare £50,000 (€55,900) she obtained from two wealthy developers to help her 19-year-old lover set up a business.
But while many feared that upheaval would heap further pressure on an already stumbling executive, the furore actually appears to have focused minds on securing a breakthrough in the devolution row.
Sinn Féin and the DUP had been at loggerheads as recently as last week, but after a meeting yesterday afternoon both parties struck a more optimistic note.
It was the second face-to-face talks session of the week and another round is pencilled in for today.
The devolution of law and order powers has been held up by rows between the two parties over timing, with Sinn Féin threatening serious consequences for the fragile executive if the DUP did not agree to a speedy transfer.
But following the ’Irisgate’ scandal, the DUP has appeared more willing to do business.
Stormont Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has taken on Mr Robinson’s First Minister duties during his sabbatical.
He is caring for his wife, who is receiving psychiatric treatment, but the DUP leader has indicated he will continue to play a role in the devolution talks.
Yesterday, one of the developers at the centre of the scandal said he once made a donation to the funds of the DUP.
Ken Campbell said he contributed between £4,000 (€4,500) and £5,000 (€5,600).
But even though he confirmed he also wrote a cheque for £25,000 (€28,000) to help Mrs Robinson’s secret lover set up a business, he categorically denied making any personal donations to the Robinson couple.
The Strangford MP secured £50,000 (€55,900) from Mr Campbell and another wealthy developer Fred Fraser, who died last year, to finance her lover Kirk McCambley’s new restaurant on the banks of the river Lagan, south Belfast.
She kept £5,000 (€5,600) and then demanded Mr McCambley pay the money back after their affair ended.
She faces allegations she failed to declare her financial interest in the cafe business even though she was a member of the council that awarded the tender to Mr McCambley.
Her husband denies the claim he knew of his wife’s dealings but failed to alert the appropriate authorities.