Belfast Telegraph

Stormont crisis: Direct rule now looking unlikely as talks set to be put on ice

By Suzanne Breen

Neither a return to direct rule nor a snap Assembly election are on the cards if today's talks deadline expires without a deal.

Politicians from across the political divide have said that an eleventh hour agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP is now highly unlikely.

Unionist sources believe Secretary of State James Brokenshire will suspend the talks for the rest of the month to allow politicians to take their holidays and for the Twelfth of July celebrations to pass.

Mr Brokenshire is due to make a statement in Parliament this afternoon setting out the Government's way forward on dealing with the deadlock.

He can introduce direct rule or call another Assembly election in the autumn, but talks insiders believe he will opt for continuing discussions between the parties at Stormont after a break.

It is hoped that a resumption of negotiations in August would bring fresh impetus.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said: "I can't see a last minute deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"It's really a matter of waiting to see what the Secretary of State says in his statement to the House of Commons at 3.30pm this afternoon.

"My party will continue to be fully engaged and will take our seat at the talks table whenever negotiations resume."

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Sinn Fein negotiator John O'Dowd said that an imminent deal between his party and the DUP was "highly unlikely".

In a hard-hitting attack on Arlene Foster's party, he accused it of joining a Tory austerity agenda and of opposing all attempts to make Northern Ireland more progressive.

Mr O'Dowd revealed there had been "no agreement" between Sinn Fein and the DUP on an Irish Language Act, marriage equality, a Bill of Rights or legacy issues. He claimed the DUP had shown "no urgency" in addressing such matters during the talks.

"Sinn Fein is not prepared to accept anything less than full equality and the rights and entitlements that all citizens in this state should rightly expect," he said.

"Citizens in the North should enjoy the rights on language and marriage equality, which are enjoyed everywhere else on these islands. And these are not just Sinn Fein demands.

"Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Belfast on Saturday to demand marriage equality. Like the Irish language community, women, and those who have made Ireland their home in recent years, our LGBT community will not be denied."

Mr O'Dowd claimed the DUP was lining up to support "a Tory Brexit" and "continued Tory austerity and cuts to public services".

He said: "The British Government have never been neutral brokers in negotiations, they are players, but the DUP/Tory deal is clearly in breach of the commitments given by the two governments in the Good Friday Agreement to 'rigorous impartiality'.

"The first victims of the DUP/Tory deal were emergency and public service workers when the DUP voted to an effective cut in their pay.

"These workers included firefighters hailed as heroes only two weeks ago as they fought the blaze at Grenfell Tower, which left at least 80 people dead."

Gerry Adams also said he didn't expect a deal by this afternoon.

Meanwhile, DUP negotiator Simon Hamilton (below) accused Sinn Fein of demanding "a 10-0 win" in the talks.

He urged the republican party to "change its attitude and approach" in the negotiations.

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics show, Mr Hamilton said the DUP wanted to see devolution restored through a "good deal" that is "fair".

"At this minute in time, that requires Sinn Fein to change its attitude and its approach to these talks and not demand the sort of 10-0 win it's looking for.

"Instead, (it should) work with us together and build on the progress that we have been making over the talks to get a fair, a sensible and a balanced deal that can be supported by all sides of our community."

With an Irish Language Act the main stumbling block to a deal, the SDLP last night said that such legislation should be no threat to any community or culture.

SDLP Assembly Member Patsy McGlone said: "As another deadline for reaching resolution to the challenges we face passes, the public has become more and more frustrated with the deadlock at Stormont."

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