Treaty Minister says the Pope couldn't reconcile Ngapuhi leadership divide

The Government has backed out of negotiations with Ngāpuhi for the time being, saying not even the Pope could help reconcile the tribe's leadership divide.

It has already spent around four million dollars on a settlement with the Northland iwi - a price tag which will rise further if the tribe accepts the Prime Minister's latest offer to pay for a mediator to sort the current impasse.

It was a war of words on Tuesday over what will be the country's largest Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson says "In my experience the more people you send in to try and help the more difficult it is. I could send Pope Francis in there and he'd get nowhere either."

Ngāpuhi is currently represented in negotiations by two groups - Tuhoronuku and Te Kotahitanga. While both groups worked to form a settlement report providing a unified approach forward - it's now being contested by Tuhoronuku.

Mr Finlayson is hitting out at former Tuhoronuku chairman Sonny Tau who remains a key figure in negotiations.

"I've made my views pretty clear about Sonny Tau. I think there comes a time when you have to leave the stage, he doesn't want to leave the stage, it's not helping."

Mr Tau says this is news to him.

"I've never read that, I've never heard that, I'm hearing it from you. And my response to that is he's a lovely person, Finlayson. Mr Finlayson is a lovely person. 

But Te Kotahitanga co-chair Rudy Taylor says Sonny Tau is holding the Ngāpuhi settlement to ransom. 

"He is holding us to ransom. We need to move on. We need to get the Maranga Mai Report going."

The Prime Minister met with Ngāpuhi leaders over the weekend, revealing that the Government is ending discussions until Ngapuhi's leaders start working together.   

Mr Taylor says "Where Sonny Tau is holding up the works and the Prime Minister has indicated to go away and sort it out I think that's a bad choice and naive on the Prime Minister's part."

Mr Tau says he supports the move.

"That's a good decision...that's how it should be and Ngāpuhi will take care of its own business. It doesn't need the Crown to interfere. It never has," Mr Tau said.