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Sinn Fein are 'doom and gloom' because they don't want deal, says Donaldson

By Noel McAdam and David Young

A senior negotiator in the DUP talks team has accused Sinn Fein of peddling "doom and gloom" about the state of talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed the republican party was misleading the public after its Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill delivered a bleak assessment of the ongoing negotiations.

The exchange between the two main parties followed confirmation that the government regards the new deadline for a resolution as "after Easter."

On day three of the two week process, Mrs O'Neill claimed a deal to rescue the crisis-hit devolved institutions could only be achieved with a "step change" in approach from the DUP and the UK government.

Sir Jeffrey responded in robust terms, questioning whether Sinn Fein actually wanted to reach agreement.

"I very much regret that Sinn Fein seem to be the doom and gloom merchants who are falsely accusing other parties of not engaging," he said.

The Lagan Valley MP added: "The DUP, government and the other parties have attended every meeting, have been actively engaging, and we believe all of the parties are actively engaged.

"In fact the only party who we believe has been holding back in these discussions is Sinn Fein.

"Having listened to Michelle O'Neill's comments today, it raises a serious question in our mind as to the level of commitment that Sinn Fein are giving to this process.

"Instead of being doom and gloom merchants, they should be at the table being more constructive about trying to find solutions."

Emerging in the Grand Hall yesterday after a series of meetings, Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Mrs O'Neill said: "So far we have had a lot of meetings, a lot of engagement but not a lot of progress.

"It is very clear to us that the DUP and British government have failed to focus on the key issues of the recent election. Our position is very clear - we will not return to the status quo.

"We want these institutions to work, we want them to deliver for all citizens, but that's the very point - they have to deliver for all citizens on the basis of equality, respect and integrity."

Mrs O'Neill warned a deal to rescue the crisis-hit institutions will only be achieved if there is a "step change" from the DUP and the London government.

"We have seen no progress to date - nothing that we could report that's anything significant," she said.

But a DUP talks source said: "The DUP wants to see the Executive restored as quickly as possible and is working to make sure that people do not suffer from Sinn Fein's desire to put the desires of a few over the needs of many."

As further details of the arrangements for the next two weeks became public, including twice-weekly round-table sessions, a brief statement from the Northern Ireland Office said that "it is not saying precisely when the deadline is".

But papers circulating at the meetings referred to a new timescale of two weeks, which would end on Easter Tuesday.

That is also when Parliament resumes after its Easter recess, allowing Secretary of State James Brokenshire to table emergency legislation.

By that stage, without agreement, Mr Brokenshire will have to strike a Budget for the new financial year to ensure the smooth running of departments.

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