The crisis in the Irish peace process deepened yesterday when First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had a very public disagreement at a press conference with Irish leader Brian Cowen.
Robinson has refused to give a date for the devolution of policing to Northern Ireland as agreed in the negotiations.
He claims there are still areas to be negotiated, but McGuinness stated flatly that Robinson had previously given a cast-iron commitment to devolving policing and justice.
Specifically, Robinson now wants a resolution of the contentious parading issue that occurs during the marching season when parades by Unionists through nationalist areas are often controversial.
“As parading is a vital issue for my community, it is essential that it is dealt with particularly for its policing aspects,” Robinson stated yesterday.
McGuinness quickly disagreed.
“At no stage on that process was the issue of issues being used as preconditions for the transfer of power on policing and justice mentioned,” he said.
He also referred to a list of “confidence building” requirements that Robinson demanded from Prime Minister Gordon Brown during the summer, which Sinn Féin stated were outside the terms of the agreement.
“At no stage were people contemplating sending, on solo runs, letters to prime ministers which effectively I had not seen, was not made aware of and was completely surprised by,” said McGuinness.
Robinson shook his head after McGuinness spoke and said, “I regret the tone of the latter remarks.
“I think if Martin looks at the process paper he will see that confidence building was an essential element of it."
McGuinness repeatedly shook his head in disagreement.
Earlier, McGuinness had taken an thinly veiled shot at Robinson for refusing to lead on the issue of devolving powers.
“What is quite clear, and I have found this out over the course of my very long-term involvement in this peace process that when you get leadership – courageous decisive leadership – your people will come with you. That is what is required.”