Bid to break Northern Ireland deadlock
Published 12/01/2010 | 04:02
Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward and the Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin are due to meet as the British and Irish governments prepare to step up the pressure to end the political crisis in Belfast in the aftermath of the Iris Robinson scandal.
With First Minister Peter Robinson standing down for six weeks because of his wife's mental illness, London and Dublin are becoming more and more alarmed that any further delay in the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont could end with the collapse of the power-sharing executive.
The couple are to be investigated by the Assembly's committee on standards and privileges after Mrs Robinson admitted she secured £50,000 from two wealthy developers to help her toy boy lover set up a restaurant business on the banks of the river Lagan in south Belfast. She, too, is under investigation after failing to declare her interest.
The sensational revelations of her sex and money relationship with Kirk McCambley, 21, effectively put the Belfast administration on hold for 48 hours. It has emerged that Mr McCambley ended the affair in late 2008 after pretending to Mrs Robinson he was suffering a serious illness. It was then that she demanded he repay the money and last March tried to kill herself after admitting to her husband she had been unfaithful.
The scandal mesmerised Northern Ireland, but the two governments believe it must be set to one side as they attempt to make sure the troubled political process stays on track.
Agreement on the devolution of policing and justice is absolutely critical, and even though Mr Robinson is taking time out to care for his wife, he will remain in charge of the Democratic Unionist Party's negotiations with Sinn Fein who are becoming increasingly irritated at the delay.
With a UK general election just months away, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Republic's Taoiseach Brian Cowen believe time is running out, and there are serious doubts a deal can be hammered out because of opposition by hardliners within Mr Robinson's party. If not, then the Assembly will fall.
Mr Woodward and Mr Martin will have talks in Dublin on Tuesday evening and there will be more discussions at Stormont. Downing Street and Mr Cowen are looking for significant movement.
Mr Brown, who has already had a series of meetings with Mr Robinson and the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, has tabled a £1bn financial package, partly to fund the transfer and the new justice department. But that is conditional on an agreement.
The Prime Minister said: "I urge all politicians in Northern Ireland, whatever the turbulence of recent events to remain focused on the business of government and to recognise the crucial importance of intensifying engagement of these issues which remain to be solved."