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Northern Ireland crisis as devolution talks verge on collapse

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The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly is at crisis point as First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are holding a crisis meeting today in an effort to prevent the Executive from collapsing.

Disagreement over when the policing and justice powers should be devolved to the Stormont local assembly is at the center of the dispute.

Sinn Fein decided at a meeting on Saturday to make one last ditch effort to reach a compromise. Both sides held talks last week with no resolution

Meanwhile, British and Irish Prime Ministers Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown are also meeting in Downing Street today to discuss the future of the Northern Ireland Executive in light of the crisis.

The hope is that Robinson and McGuinness will make an 11th hour compromise on the devolution of justice and policing in Northern Ireland.

In return for the devolution of policing and justice, the DUP want the Parades Commission abolished. The Parades Commission has forced Orange marches to reroute from Catholic neighborhoods, most notably in Drumcree,  near Portadown, where a hugely controversial march has been banned.

Sinn Fein have made it clear that they will not agree to the complete abolition of the Parades Commission, but they appear willing to make a compromise if justice and policing is devolved.

"Martin McGuinness put it very clearly that there must be movement on policing and justice without the added DUP precondition on parades," senior political sources told the Irish Times.

Sources also said, "that a proper working relationship with the DUP in the Executive is impossible" at present.

If the executive collapses, Assembly elections would have to be called after seven days.

However the Iris Robinson scandal has weakened support for the DUP. Urged on by the British Conservative party, The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) - the less popular unionist grouping - appear to have made a pact to prevent Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein from winning the First Minister post in the Assembly elections.

The First Minster is chosen from the party that commands the most votes. With the nationalist vote far less split, it was assumed that McGuinness would win the title in any new elections. However, that is now unlikely if such an accord among unionists exists.

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