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Still no deal on Northern Ireland policing devolution

Crunch talks on the devolution of policing and justice powers look set to go to the wire as prospects of an imminent breakthrough took a further dip last night.

Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness will today brief his party's officer board — after a week of talks aimed at keeping Stormont's political institutions standing.

Last night a spokesman confirmed the meeting would take place today, but there were no details on time or venue.

That officer board includes party president Gerry Adams, vice president Mary Lou McDonald and national chairperson Declan Kearney.

The officer board has to decide when to convene a meeting of the Sinn Fein ard chomhairle to make an assessment of the talks.

That is now expected soon, possibly Saturday.

The McGuinness briefing comes with no suggestion that republicans have yet achieved the “product” they want out of these talks.

Instead Gerry Adams gave a downbeat assessment yesterday.

A Sinn Fein source said: “Gerry said this is all about product, and we have not got that yet.”

Other sources were, however, more upbeat.

“We are inching onward, nobody is walking out,” one said.

Yet only limited progress is being signalled.

With the prospect of an Assembly collapse still hanging in the balance DUP and Sinn Fein negotiating teams locked horns for an eighth day, with some sources suggesting the make-or-break point could come today or tomorrow. And Mr Adams was yesterday back heading the Sinn Fein side, after being absent on Tuesday.

Meetings got under way around lunchtime yesterday and continued until late yesterday evening.

The chances still remain, however, of breakthrough rather than breakdown.

According to one report, proposals on how contentious parades could be handled in the future are being formalised.

Sinn Fein sources have indicated willingness to provide “cover” for the DUP by agreeing to a review of a parading blueprint drawn up by a panel headed by former Liberal leader Lord Ashdown in return for a firm date for the handover of responsibilities for police, courts and prisons. But the current Parades Commission would remain in place for at least another year.

Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance delegations, who were briefed on the talks on Tuesday, were entirely left out yesterday — and said they did not know when they might be invited back. An SDLP source said: “They are dealing with the issues one by one, but don’t seem close to agreement.”

Belfast Telegraph