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NIreland parties struggling to save coalition pact

 Sinn Fein's  Martin McGuinness , left, Gerry Adams, centre, and Pat Doherty take a walk in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland, Tues...
 Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, leader Peter Robinson, second left, speaks to the media during a break in political talks at Hillsborough Castle, Bel...

BRITAIN NORTHERN IRELAND

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness , left, Gerry Adams, centre, and Pat Doherty take a walk in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland, Tues...

NORTHERN IRELAND

Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, leader Peter Robinson, second left, speaks to the media during a break in political talks at Hillsborough Castle, Bel...

Rival leaders of Northern Ireland's faltering Catholic-Protestant administration edged closer to a new power-sharing deal Friday following a marathon diplomatic effort, but negotiators on both sides said the final hurdles might be too high to clear.
Northern Ireland's peacemaking coalition _ the central achievement of the province's 1998 peace accord _ has teetered on the brink of collapse since the major Irish Catholic party, Sinn Fein, warned it could end its awkward partnership with the major British Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists.
The Irish Republican Army-linked party, which has already delivered IRA disarmament and growing Catholic support for the police, is demanding that the Protestant side stop blocking a plan to transfer control of Northern Ireland's security and legal system from Britain to local hands.
Prime Ministers Gordon Brown of Britain and Brian Cowen of Ireland _ both of whom also want justice powers transferred to the Belfast coalition _ rushed Monday to Northern Ireland to oversee round-the-clock negotiations between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists.
Their high-profile effort ended Wednesday in frustrated exhaustion. The departing prime ministers urged both sides to narrow the ground between them by Friday. Otherwise, they warned, the two governments would publish their own Anglo-Irish blueprint for saving power-sharing.
That deadline was quietly broken Friday as the governments decided that, so long as Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists keep talking, they shouldn't deter them by publishing their own plans.
All sides did report making progress Thursday and Friday in talks shepherded by the prime ministers' key deputies, Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward and Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin.
They talked until 5:30 a.m. Friday, resumed four hours later and were still going as darkness fell.
But by Friday night, both sides were sounding jaded, irritated and flat-out tired. Sinn Fein said its members must decide soon whether to admit defeat.
"Unfortunately to date, a deal is not on," said Sinn Fein negotiator Conor Murphy. He said the two sides could talk "only for so long, and then a judgment call has to be made."
He declined to discuss the timing of a Sinn Fein walkout from power-sharing in event of failure.
In exchange for accepting the transfer of law-and-order powers, the Democratic Unionists are demanding that the Catholic side accept a major reversal on how Northern Ireland's divisive Protestant parades are managed.
The summertime marches triggered chronic trouble with Catholics until the late 1990s, when a British government-organized panel began barring them from passing Sinn Fein power bases, where the worst rioting occurred. The Democratic Unionists want the panel disbanded and parade restrictions made a responsibility of the power-sharing government itself.
Democratic Unionist negotiator Edwin Poots accused Sinn Fein of seeking to make only vague commitments on the parades issue couched in impenetrable language. He said Protestants were demanding "a deal that every Ulster man and woman can read and understand very clearly."
Poots said Sinn Fein negotiators "think they're going to ride roughshod over the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), that they're going to bully the unionist people. That's not going to happen. We'll either get a fair deal or we'll not get a deal at all."
Earlier, rising security levels at the castle had fueled media speculation that Brown and Cowen might be about to return to confirm that a deal had been reached.
But British and Irish officials stressed the prime ministers would come back only if a deal was in the bag.


Updated : 2021-07-27 08:07 GMT+08:00