Deal at risk, 2 premiers leave Ulster

Say factions must both compromise

By Shawn Pogatchnik
Associated Press / January 28, 2010

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HILLSBOROUGH, Northern Ireland - The prime ministers of Britain and Ireland presented a compromise yesterday to keep Northern Ireland’s fractious politicians from breaking up their Catholic-Protestant government, but neither side accepted the deal.

Gordon Brown of Britain and Brian Cowen of Ireland ended their three-day diplomatic mission saying they had dramatically narrowed the divisions between the Irish Catholics of Sinn Fein and the British Protestants of the Democratic Unionist Party. Yet Sinn Fein remained poised to withdraw from the power-sharing coalition and bring it crashing down.

Both premiers held out hope the rivals could keep talking and fine-tune their proposals over the next two days.

“We’ve made enormous progress,’’ said Brown, who called the proposals “a pathway to agreement.’’ He added: “On Monday, quite frankly, parties were not talking to each other.’’

Neither Sinn Fein nor the Democratic Unionists, however, sounded close to achieving a deal as the prime ministers departed for London and Dublin. The two local parties blamed each other for making impossible demands.

The premiers hurried to Northern Ireland on Monday in fear that the 2 1/2-year-old coalition was on the brink of collapse. Sinn Fein warned it was about to withdraw following a long dispute over when the coalition would take charge of the province’s police and justice system from Britain.

Sinn Fein, Britain, Ireland, and the United States all wanted the move to happen by 2008. But many Protestants remain upset over the prospect that former IRA commanders in Sinn Fein, men involved in killing police and judges, would have any role now in overseeing law and order.