Gordon Brown is to provide Northern Ireland with a financial package in excess of £600m in a bid to persuade local parties to agree to take over responsibility for policing and justice.
The prime minister will provide details of the package when he writes to Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s first minister and Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister, on Monday – the same day Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is set to visit the province.
Government officials hope the funding, which is understood to cover the cost of a new police college and money for officers claiming compensation for hearing damage sustained during the Troubles, will be enough to overcome the misgivings of Mr Robinson’s Democratic Unionists.
A government spokesman described it as “a strong financial package” covering “all the big ticket items”. He said it would provide a “firm financial underpinning” for the new ministry.
The package was finalised in late-night talks with the prime minister in Downing Street on Thursday – the sixth such meeting in recent weeks, underlining the importance the government is placing on finding a breakthrough.
Mr McGuinness described it as “a good night’s work”. But Mr Robinson insisted the DUP would not be “pushed or bullied or bribed”.
Local analysts say Mr Robinson faces criticism from unionist hardliners opposed to the party’s power sharing with Sinn Fein and may still seek to delay the transfer of powers until after a British general election expected next May.
Devolution of policing and justice is seen in London as the last piece in the jigsaw of the political settlement negotiated by Mr Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair and the Irish government in 1998.
The government believes it will help stabilise the fragile peace process and, in particular, increase the authority of the police to take on republican dissidents who in separate incidents earlier this year killed two soldiers at a base in Antrim and shot dead a police officer in county Armagh. One of the charges of the dissidents is that Sinn Fein has “sold out” and is administering “British rule in Ireland”.
To meet DUP sensitivities, the two parties have agreed that the new minister be elected on a full vote of the 108-member assembly, comprising a majority of both unionist and nationalist blocs. This in effect gives the DUP a veto over the appointment.