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DUBLIN (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise early exit from Northern Ireland peace talks Friday after making a conditional offer of "financial firepower" for the region's Catholic-Protestant government, but local leaders dismissed his pledge as bogus amid rising fears that power-sharing could end soon.
Cameron said the British government was willing to offer Northern Ireland leaders an extra 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) to spend over the next six years, but only on condition that they resolved several other disputes undermining their five-party administration. All five parties dismissed that claim as deeply misleading, saying that Cameron only was offering to reduce restrictions on an existing loan facility with the British Treasury.
"If he wants to bribe us, to bribe us with our own money comes a bit short of what is required," said First Minister Peter Robinson, whose Democratic Unionist Party represents British Protestants in Northern Ireland.
"We were distinctly underwhelmed by his generosity," said Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, whose Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein leads the Catholic side.
Analysts said the sudden departure of Cameron and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny reflected their shared view that Northern Ireland's ever-bickering leaders were being too greedy and unrealistic about their responsibility for fixing their own problems. Cameron and Kenny had been expected to stay until Friday night at least.
During late-night negotiations, Cameron presented an 18-page blueprint for compromise. Robinson and McGuinness said they would discuss these ideas in the run-up to Christmas.
Political analyst Rick Wilford said power-sharing could collapse within months, forcing Britain to resume direct rule from London, the system that prevailed from 1972 through much of the 2000s.
"We're not in a car crash yet," said Wilford, a politics professor at Queen's University Belfast. "We've gone into a long skid. Whether that's a controllable skid is another matter."
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