Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party made clear on Sunday it would resist any attempt by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to force it to agree to a timetable for devolving policing and justice powers.
Speaking ahead of Mrs Clinton’s visit to the province on Monday, Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP MP for Lagan Valley, said: “This is a matter that has to be decided between the parties and with the government in London.”
Mrs Clinton will address the assembly on Monday when she is expected to urge all the local parties to complete the process of devolution, set in train by the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which her husband Bill Clinton helped broker.
She told a news conference in London on Sunday it was “imperative that the process that was established by the Good Friday agreement be seen all the way to conclusion”. She will hold meetings with Peter Robinson, first minister and DUP leader, and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin deputy first minister.
Eleven years after the original political agreement, policing is still the responsibility of so-called direct rule ministers appointed by the Westminster government. Sinn Féin is believed to be ready to pull out of the executive if it does not get a commitment from the DUP.
With many grassroots unionists uncomfortable at the thought of a Sinn Féin minister for policing, the parties earlier agreed a compromise formula that gives both the DUP and Sinn Féin a veto over the appointment.
Gordon Brown, the prime minister, last week conceded to the DUP’s demand that London foot the bill for costs involved in transferring powers to Belfast. He will on Monday write to the respective party leaders outlining a financial package that officials say is in excess of the £600m the DUP had originally sought.
In another symbolic milestone, the Irish National Liberation Army, a breakaway republican group, looks poised to join the IRA and the main loyalist paramilitary groups in announcing it has decommissioned its arms. It was responsible for the 1979 killing of Airey Neave, the Tory Northern Ireland spokesman.