Belfast Telegraph

No all-party roundtable Stormont talks until Thursday 'doesn't inspire confidence' in process, says Alliance

By Claire Williamson

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry has said there will be no all-party roundtable Stormont talks until Thursday at the earliest - leaving just a fortnight to complete a deal.

It comes as a new round of talks got underway at Stormont on Monday aimed at forming a new Executive. The deadline for an agreement to be reached is June 29.

It was the first meeting held with DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill since before the seven-week general election campaign.

Mrs Foster travelled to London on Tuesday where she will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May for talks on the terms of the DUP's backing for her minority government.

Sinn Fein's seven MPs have also travelled to London for a two-day series of meetings.

Exchanges at Stormont Castle on Tuesday are expected to be limited discussions between party officials.

Read more: Here's what could be on DUP wish list when Arlene Foster meets Theresa May at Downing Street

Mr Farry said the lack of all-party roundtable talks “doesn’t inspire confidence” in the ongoing process and said there remains "no impetus to this process".

He said: "This has been branded an intensive three-week process. However, no roundtable between the parties until Thursday at least means the first week will have effectively passed by without meaningful discussions between the parties at the same table.

“Alliance has met with the two Governments and also asked each of the main parties to meet as well. While separate bilateral meetings are useful, it’s not until you get an all-party meeting around the same table that you get a true sense of everyone’s intentions.

“I understand there is a new UK Government and changes in the Government in the Republic but there remains no impetus to this process, which doesn’t inspire confidence. We need people to step up to the plate and do so without delay. The consequences of not doing so are too severe.”

BACKGROUND

Northern Ireland has been without a powersharing executive since March and without a first and deputy first minister since January.

Developments at Westminster have placed another question mark over the already faltering process.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance insist Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire can no longer chair the efforts to restore powersharing.

They are adamant the UK government can no longer cast itself as a neutral facilitator in the process, given the Prime Minister's likely deal with the DUP.

The dispute has prompted renewed calls for a chairman from outside the UK and Ireland to be appointed.

Mr Brokenshire has rejected the criticism, claiming Westminster affairs were "entirely separate" from the Government's responsibility to act with impartiality at Stormont.

A number of deadlines to reach an agreement have already fallen by the wayside since March's snap Assembly poll, which was triggered by the implosion of the last DUP/Sinn Fein-led administration over a dispute about a botched green energy scheme.

The Assembly election campaign exposed many divisions between the two main parties on issues such as legislative protections for Irish language speakers and how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

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