Belfast: Political parties in Northern Ireland have expressed hope of striking a deal to avert a crisis in the province's fragile administration, despite a scandal engulfing its leading politician.
A day after First Minister Peter Robinson took a six-week break following allegations about his wife's affair with a teenage lover, the parties Tuesday were upbeat after emergency talks on the thorny issues of policing and justice. Robinson's decision to stand aside has prompted concerns the once-troubled province's already strained administration could collapse altogether.
Even before the current crisis erupted, Northern Ireland was tense over the failure of the parties sharing power to agree on when policing should be handed from London to Belfast -- a key step in the devolution of powers to the province.
But both Robinson's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and their power-sharing partners Sinn Fein said Tuesday they were determined to find a solution to the vexing issue.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams refused to be drawn on the details of the discussions, but hinted that progress had been made on what is a key piece of the province's devolution jigsaw.
"We believe that with political will these difficulties can be resolved," Adams said.
"These discussions, and it has to involve all of the parties, but particularly between ourselves and the DUP, are hugely important.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson of the DUP expressed optimism that a deal could be done, although he stressed many hurdles still remained.
"We are not going to minimise the difficulties that have to be faced but we will seek to do this job, do it as quickly as possibly and do it only once we are sure we have a secure foundation to have this important function."
Britain's Northern Ireland minister Shaun Woodward met in Dublin to discuss the situation with Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin late Tuesday.
After their meeting, Martin said Britain and Ireland were "very encouraged" by recent progress and urged further steps forward in coming days.
First Published: Wednesday, January 13, 2010, 11:24