Leaders of UK, Ireland meet for emergency justice talks

Monday, January 25, 2010

File Photo of Brian Cowen in 2008
Image: Irish Philadelphia.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen, the current Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, have met in Northern Ireland for emergency talks about policing and justice. The talks follow a failed lunchtime meeting between Northern Irish politicians Peter Robinson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister.

The meeting between Robinson—who recently stood down as First Minister temporarily due to a sexual and financial and scandal concerning his wife Iris—and McGuinness lasted less than one hour. This prompted Brown and Cowen, who had been discussing similar issues in London, to make an unscheduled trip to Ulster in an attempt to attempt to prevent the collapse of the Irish political system due to a conflict about the DUP's refusal to transfer the Irish policing and justice system from London to Belfast. On his way to the failed meeting, McGuinness said that he was "frustrated" that Sinn Féin had been stalling for time by waiting three years for the devolution of power.

Sinn Féin—a political party promoting an independent Ireland—called the meeting, before it occurred, a defining moment in the crisis. The DUP says that there is insufficient public confidence for the powers to be transferred, and claims that a date for the transfer was never set. It also demands that, before any transfer attempts begin, the Parades Commission—which is responsible for the conditions of a number of contentious marches—be disbanded. Sinn Féin responds to this by accusing the DUP of giving the organisers of the parades, the loyalist Orange Order, a veto. The Orange Order organises parades and rallies in support of Ireland being a part of the United Kingdom.

We believe that the problems that exist in devolving policing and justice are all soluble problems

—Gordon Brown

Brown and Cowen are both confident that the issues are resolvable. Before departing, Brown said "We believe that the problems that exist in devolving policing and justice are all soluble problems. We believe that it is right for Northern Ireland to move forward in this way now and we believe that together we can assist the completion of these talks. And while I recognise that there are difficult issues, we believe that these issues can be overcome," and Cowen said "We are going to Belfast to see in what way we can assist. It is very important that we get a successful outcome to these discussions and we believe that our going there should help bring a conclusion to the devolution issues."

Negotiating teams from Sinn Féin and the DUP have arrived at Hillsborough Castle to discuss the issue. No other political parties are currently involved in the talks. DUP Member of Parliament Sammy Wilson said Sinn Féin had "thrown a hissy fit", and that they should "pull back from the brink" in order for the conflict to be resolved in a mutually beneficial manner. He also said, "People said we could never deliver this assembly up and running again. When we believed we had got the right things in place we went out and sold it - we have persevered with it and we have had the assembly running now for three years. So if we can get something we believe is workable that's the only criterion we will make - it's not about 'have we won or have we lost?' - if we get something workable we will sell it, and we will sell it hard because we want to see this place working."