Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen, the Irish Taoiseach, were last night in 11th-hour talks to try to save the Northern Ireland peace process
By Rosa Prince, Political Correspondent
The two premiers made an unscheduled trip to the province after discussions between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party over the devolution of police and justice powers broke down.
Amid fears that the power-sharing assembly at Stormont could collapse over the impasse, Mr Brown and Mr Cowen were preparing to talk with the political parties at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down, late into the night.
The two leaders had been discussing the crisis in Downing Street when they made the decision to travel to Northern Ireland.
Mr Brown said he thought the difficulties caused by the DUP’s refusal to agree to the transfer of policing and justice powers could still be resolved.
He added: "We are going to be talking to people this afternoon about all the issues and I believe that the end product will be that devolution of policing and justice will take place.
"We believe it is right for Northern Ireland to move forward in this way and we believe that together we can assist in the completion of these talks".
The arrival of Mr Brown and Mr Cowen came as a key meeting between Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, broke down after just half an hour with the differences between the two sides said to have widened.
Sinn Fein have accused the DUP of failing to fulfil its promises on justice and policing, while the unionist party insists that its community lacks confidence that former terrorists who have renounced violence are ready to take over such sensitive roles.
None of the parties are keen to go through an Assembly election at this stage at the political cycle, however, leading to hopes in London and Dublin that the peace process can be maintained.
Mr Robinson has temporarily stood aside as First Minister of the Assembly over a sex scandal involving his wife but remains in charge of negotiations for the DUP.