Negotiations between Sinn Fein and the DUP will continue today amid intense pressure for a deal over policing and justice powers to be struck.
Senior representatives from both parties were locked in meetings at Stormont until late last night aware that failure to reach agreement within days could spark a political crisis leading to the collapse of power-sharing.
Earlier, Prime Minister Gordon Brown had met with Taoiseach Brian Cowen at Downing Street and insisted that a deal could still be done, although he admitted the Robinson affair had plunged Northern Ireland politics in “turbulent times”.
DUP leader Peter Robinson rejoined the negotiations yesterday following the most torrid week of his political career when he has been forced to answer questions over the financial dealings of his wife Iris.
He is also facing a series of official probes after claims he covered up his wife's failure to declare £50,000 she obtained from two wealthy developers to set her teenage lover up in business.
The revelations, which have forced Mrs Robinson to resign as MP, MLA and councillor, broke at a critical juncture for the fragile power-sharing administration, with the long-running row over the delay in transferring law and order powers from Westminster threatening to bring down the institutions.
Following the conclusion of last night’s talks the DUP released a short statement. A party spokesman said: “Discussions have now ended for the evening and will continue on Friday.”
The sense of the crisis engulfing Stormont was underlined when party leader Gerry Adams said he and colleagues had cleared their diaries in preparation of lengthy talks over coming days.
Within the DUP one of the problems remains selling any deal to devolution sceptics inside the party.
The sticking points in the closed doors meetings remain Sinn Fein demands for a justice powers devolution date and DUP wishes for progress on policing. It is believed that republicans may be prepared to go as far as considering the a replacement for the Parades Commission but will not countenance DUP demands over specific parades.
While the parties had been at loggerheads over the parades issue, hopes were rising last night that a compromise is being negotiated which may unlock a wider breakthrough.