Belfast Telegraph

'Little evidence of progress' in efforts to restore Stormont powersharing

Crisis talks aimed at restoring powersharing at Stormont are unlikely to be resolved by next week's deadline, the Alliance Party has warned.

Party leader Naomi Long said progress to reach agreement between the main parties has been "incredibly slow".

Speaking following a number of meetings between the parties at Stormont Castle on Friday, Mrs Long said, while there is "some hope" a government can be formed by the deadline of June 29, it would be "wrong to be overly optimistic".

Mrs Long also said negotiations between Democratic Unionists and the Conservative Party in Westminster was becoming a "distraction" from attempts to save Stormont.

She insisted the Alliance would not be signing off on any powersharing agreement without knowing the details of a deal reached between Theresa May's party and the DUP.

"There is very little evidence of any progress in terms of delivery or addressing the key issues. We are against the clock.

"We are not without hope, but it would be wrong to be overly optimistic," said Mrs Long.

She added: "At this point there's still a lot of work to do and an increasingly short time in which to do it."

Mrs Long said that "the spectre of some deal between the Tory government and the DUP" is starting to become an issue for participants in the talks process.

"Getting that issue closed down and clarified would be helpful and get the focus back here at Stormont."

She added that it would be "foolish" to sign an agreement without knowing the details of a parliamentary pact.

If the parties miss the deadline for agreement at Stormont they face the prospect of direct rule being reimposed from Westminster.

Northern Ireland has been without a powersharing executive since March and without a first and deputy first minister since January, when the late Martin McGuinness's resignation forced DUP leader Arlene Foster from her job as first minister.

The institutions collapsed amid a bitter political row over a botched renewable heat scheme.

The anticipated DUP/Conservative arrangement at Westminster has forced the UK Government to reject suggestions its commitment to act with impartiality in Northern Ireland, as set out in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, will be fatally undermined by any parliamentary pact.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney insisted that the deadline for agreement cannot be pushed back as it is a legislative deadline in law.

However, he said he believed a deal by deadline day was still "doable".

" Today was a good day.

"What we have now is serious and substantive discussions between the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, and conversations with smaller parties to see what they need to be part of a broadly based executive," he said.

Mr Coveney added: "There's some work to do yet on the sensitive issues.

"We haven't got wording that everyone can live with.

"What we have this evening is a continuing conversation between the DUP and Sinn Fein and those discussions will continue tomorrow.

"I think it is doable but I wouldn't take anything for granted."

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