NI talks break up in acrimony

Talks aimed at brokering a compromise over power-sharing in Northern Ireland have broken up in acrimony.

The political parties and the British and Irish governments held negotiations at Stormont in an effort to conclude a deal which would see the restoration of the assembly.

However, they broke up on Wednesday without agreement, with the Democratic Unionist Party and two nationalist parties blaming each other.

The key sticking points include the election of first and deputy first ministers, the powers of ministers and north-south arrangements.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy and Irish Minister of State Tom Kitt are to brief the British and Irish Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, on the situation.

The two governments are also going to reflect on whether it would be helpful for them to table a paper on the way forward.

On the second day of post Leeds Castle talks, the parties were trying to achieve consensus on changes to the institutions.

Earlier, the DUP tabled a paper on issues such as greater accountability for ministers. However, nationalists were concerned about a unionist veto.

The party wanted more control over Belfast-Dublin relations.

BBC NI political correspondent Martina Purdy said nationalists were uneasy about a second government document which had been leaked to the BBC.

It was entitled "Accountability - Strand Two" and covered north-south relations.

It caused annoyance in nationalist circles at Stormont as it proposed more ministerial accountability over joint policy initiatives with the Irish Government.

Sinn Fein said it had "major concerns" about the proposals, a senior SDLP source warned that it could lead to "abuse, delay and bureaucracy" and the Ulster Unionists also criticised the proposals.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson rejected suggestions by the nationalist parties that the two governments were helping the DUP to attack the Agreement.

The parties failed to reach agreement during talks at Leeds Castle in Kent last weekend over DUP demands for changes to the institutions.

One of the main problems to emerge from the talks was how the DUP and Sinn Fein would work together in a power-sharing government.

However, two and a half days of talks in Kent appeared to bring closer a solution to ending IRA activity and decommissioning its weapons.

The BBC obtained a government blueprint on Tuesday suggesting how to tackle issues of concern to unionists and nationalists.

Under the government's proposal, ministers would be subject to a ministerial code where they would have to take decisions that fell outside the agreed programme for government to the executive for scrutiny.

The political institutions in Northern Ireland were suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the Northern Ireland Office.

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