Belfast Telegraph

Brokenshire returns to lead powersharing negotiations at Stormont

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has returned from Westminster to lead discussions at Stormont.

Political negotiations on restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland are set to continue.

Sinn Fein has claimed the DUP are standing in the way of a deal and urged the British and Irish governments to intervene, but a representative of Northern Ireland's main unionist party said he would be happy to nominate devolved ministers on Thursday.

The parties have until 4pm on Thursday to nominate ministers to a new coalition executive or they face the prospect of some version of direct rule to be imposed from Westminster - or yet another snap Assembly election.

Among the sticking points are republican demands for an Irish Language Act which would bestow official protection for the minority tongue and equal rights for the LGBT community.

Senior Sinn Fein negotiator John O'Dowd said: "There is clearly an onus on the governments to inject energy into these talks, to inject leadership into talks and ensure the outstanding issues are resolved in the time-scale we have left to us."

The DUP has told the republican party to stop indulging in "high-wire acts" and get down to the job of delivering for the people.

The DUP is willing to legislate on the language issue, but only if Ulster Scots speakers are included in any Act - a condition Sinn Fein has rejected.

Leading Democratic Unionist Edwin Poots said: "We will be happy to run D'Hondt (to select ministers) tomorrow and continue with negotiations in a fair and reasonable manner to get the solutions.

"It is up to Sinn Fein if they wish to do that, or if they want to break through the deadline that is a matter for them, but we are happy to nominate ministers tomorrow."

Ulster Unionist (UUP) leader Robin Swann said his party would not provide "cover" for the DUP if it signed up to an Irish Language Act.

He said there were many issues the UUP wanted to raise, including mechanisms for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles and pensions for conflict victims.

"Our party will not be taken for granted in these talks or the formation of any executive," he said.

Sinn Fein has hinted movement was possible on one precondition - its opposition to DUP leader Arlene Foster returning as Stormont First Minister while a public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme is ongoing - if the DUP gave ground on other matters.

Mrs Foster was forced from office in January when Sinn Fein's then deputy first minister, the late Martin McGuinness, quit in protest at the DUP's handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) - a scheme that left the administration facing a £490 million overspend.

His move triggered a snap assembly election in March.

A number of attempts to restore powersharing between the five main parties following that poll foundered, with three UK Government deadlines for a deal having already been missed.

Earlier, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said failure to strike a powersharing deal would have "profound and serious" implications.

The DUP was involved in a spat with the Irish government, which is helping lead the negotiations with its British counterparts, after it reiterated its commitment to an Irish Language Act.

Christopher Stalford of the DUP said: "By publicly declaring its support for Sinn Fein's position in negotiations, the Irish government has undermined its own credibility as being neutral."

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