N Ireland party to reject deal
London – Northern Ireland's joint government faced fresh pressure after a pro-British party said it would reject a key political deal in a vote on Tuesday, despite a reported intervention from George W Bush.
The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) said it would not endorse a hard-fought agreement struck last month to transfer sensitive policing and justice powers from London to the British province.
Agreement on the thorny issue between Northern Ireland's other parties was only reached after days of talks and amid growing fears for the fragile administration, a vital part of the peace process.
The UUP, which draws its support from the Protestant community, is not the largest pro-British party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and its refusal would not doom the vote on the deal later on Tuesday.
Deal has enough strength
The main Protestant party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and their Catholic power-sharing partners, Sinn Fein, agree on the deal and will have enough strength to push it through the assembly.
But the refusal by the UUP to support a deal deprives political leaders of hoped for consensus on the matter. The Ulster Unionists once ruled the province and used to be its biggest party.
UUP leader Reg Empey said his party would vote against the proposals as it did not believe the government was ready to take on the new powers.
"We are prepared to go forward and look to the future, but not under the cosh of all this blackmail and bullying," he said.
The refusal came despite high-level international intervention, with former US president Bush stepping into the crisis in a rare move since leaving office, according to the Guardian newspaper.
Bush made a plea to David Cameron, the leader of Britain's main opposition Conservative party, which has an electoral pact with the UUP, said the paper.
Bush pressed the Conservative leader to use his influence to get the pro-British party to support the agreement, said the report, citing sources familiar with the negotiations.
"There was a feeling that a conservative to conservative conversation was the right way to go about this," one source familiar with the contact told the newspaper.
Northern Ireland's three decades of violence known as "The Troubles", in which more than 3 500 people died, was largely ended by a 1998 peace deal which paved the way for devolution of power from politicians in London to Belfast.
But there are still splinter groups opposed to the peace process and sporadic violence occasionally rattles the province.
Around two weeks ago, a massive car bomb exploded outside a courthouse in Newry, south of Belfast. No one was hurt in the blast.