The DUP and Sinn Fein are currently engaged in "serious and sensitive" negotiations on the devolution of policing and justice affairs in Northern Ireland.

Both sides are cautiously hopeful that an agreement can be made, after an impasse was reached when DUP Leader Peter Robinson introduced a series or preconditions that had to me met before devolution could take place.

Robinson is expected to take part in negotiations next week, despite having stepped down as First Minister of Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive for six weeks.

DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds is now taking a central role in the negotiations with Sinn Fein. According to DUP and Sinn Fein sources,  Dodds is "key" to the development of devolution.

However, hard-line unionist and DUP MP Gregory Campbell said that there would be no agreement to the devolution of policing unless the whole unionist community agreed to it. DUP chairman Lord Morrow said that a deal was unlikely to be achieved before the deadline in May 2011.

However, the British and Irish governments are hopeful that a deal can be reached. They believe Dodds can persuade his party members to make the deal.

Senior sources in the British and Irish governments told The Irish Times  that “Nigel Dodds’ engagement is significant and important. But what’s crucial is that the DUP delivers on the positive words we’ve been hearing. There needs to be movement within days. This can’t be strung out for weeks."

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams can sense some progress in negotiations.

 “I have set out the Sinn Féin stall that our resolve is to see beyond the current difficulties and we believe that with political will these difficulties will be resolved. We are looking to the future" said Adams.

The DUP's Minister for Finance, Sammy Wilson, also sensed some progress.

"I’m glad to see there is now a positive engagement between the parties. I hope that we will be able to engage all the parties in those discussions and work our way through this,” he said.