Potential breakthrough talks on the transfer of policing and justice powers to Stormont appeared to be on the cards in London today.
Gordon Brown has invited First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness,to a meeting in Downing Street this afternoon but last night there was doubt over whether or not the DUP planned to attend.
The PM’s request led to a flurry of contact in Parliament Buildings yesterday between Sinn Fein and the DUP, in what one source referred to as a “crisis”.
And while Downing Street played down the significance of the the meeting, it is understood the Prime Minister has a positive response on the need for additional financing to underpin the long-delayed switch-over from Westminster. But in return for agreeing to the considerable sums involved, Mr Brown is thought to want commitments from the joint leaders that the historic handover can be finalised before the end of the year.
That, according to some sources, would mean legislation allowing for the transfer must begin its progress through the Assembly in December.
The all-party Assembly and Executive Review Committee, which has been examining the detail of the “final piece of the devolution jigsaw”, as Secretary of State Shaun Woodward — who will also be attending this afternoon's meeting — referred to the transfer, is not expected to complete its report to the Assembly until September.
But if the money issue can be sorted out it would clear the final major obstacle which could see Northern Ireland's first Policing and Justice Minister — widely tipped to come from the Alliance Party, most likely its leader, David Ford — by Christmas.
Downing Street, however, referred to today's meeting which leaked at Stormont yesterday as a “routine, stock-taking” session and no major announcement is expected immediately afterwards.