Belfast Telegraph

'Window of opportunity to reach powersharing deal is closing': Brokenshire

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said the window of opportunity to reach a deal is closing.

Speaking following a day of talks with all of Northern Ireland's party leaders, he said he could be forced to legislate for a Stormont budget soon if the deadlock continued.

"I’ve continued to urge them to find a way to restore an executive,” he said. “Devolved government is in the best interest of everyone."

He added: “All party leaders have made clear that they agree that there is a need for an executive to be formed to make key decisions for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland. Now is the time to give effect to this desire through political leadership on all sides.”

Mr Brokenshire said further bilateral meetings will take place this week before the start of structured multiparty talks.

“The window of opportunity to restore devolution and to form an executive is closing rapidly as we move further into the Autumn,” he said.

Financial pressure on Northern Ireland's health service could force the UK Government to step in, he warned.

"I cannot ignore the growing concern in the wider community here about the impact that the current political impasse is having on the local economy and on the delivery of key public services."

Mr Brokenshire was speaking on Monday afternoon, following statements from Sinn Fein and the DUP that differed on the cause of the current impasse - but which both said a swift resolution was a possibility. 

Sinn Fein's Party leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill claimed a deal could be done in days with the right attitude and reiterated calls for progress on a range of cultural issues.

Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill leads some of her party colleagues out to speak to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.
Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill leads some of her party colleagues out to speak to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.
DUP leader Arlene Foster speaks to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.
Powersharing has been in deep freeze since early this year
The Alliance Party's Stephen Farry and some of his party colleagues speak to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
The SDLP's Nicola Mallon speaks to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
The UUP's Steve Aiken speaks to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
TUV Leader Jim Allister speaks to the media at Stormont on Monday. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
James Brokenshire warned he could be forced to pass a budget for the deadlocked politicians as public services suffer

Mrs O'Neill said: "There is a short window in front of us where we need to find solutions and a way forward.

"We need a short, sharp and focused negotiation in the small time frame we have ahead of us."

DUP chief Arlene Foster said the discussions should be over pretty quickly.

The DUP leader said Sinn Fein had reacted with breakneck speed to reject her suggestion that a ministerial executive at Stormont be restored alongside a parallel process dealing with cultural issues such as the Irish language.

She warned Mr Brokenshire needed to make a decision by next month on the prospect for fresh talks or direct rule from London with financial pressures looming.

Ms Foster said: "I am not going to be prescriptive but we do not believe that there can be a prolonged set of talks.

"We think we should be able to come to a determination pretty quickly whether Sinn Fein want to go back into government.

"Certainly for our part we do.

"We have no red lines - we have no barriers."

DUP leader Arlene Foster and party colleagues in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
DUP leader Arlene Foster and party colleagues in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill speaks to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Powersharing has been in deep freeze since early this year when the late Sinn Fein deputy first minister Mr McGuinness resigned in protest at the DUP's handling of a botched green energy scheme which risks landing the taxpayer in millions of pounds of debt.

Mrs Foster said by October the Northern Ireland Secretary would have to pass a law authorising the expenditure of public money, adding: "If there is no devolution by that stage and no signal of devolution I think that he would have to take action in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland."

It has been seven months since devolved ministers last took decisions with n egotiations paused over the summer.

Outstanding issues in dispute between the parties include legal protection for the Irish language and dealing with violence from Northern Ireland's past.

Mrs Foster has called for a "common sense" solution appointing Stormont ministers alongside a time-limited process for making progress on the red line issue of an Irish language act and Ulster Scots.

Her republican counterpart said: "What she did was go away and call for something which she knew would be rejected."

She said it had been turned down in March.

"It was put out knowing what the outcome would be and what the response would be."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said direct rule was not inevitable.

"It is critical that we have power-sharing and devolution here in Northern Ireland, both in terms of government as well as reconciliation projects.

There does seem to be a dearth of creativity in terms of ideas of how we can get through this current impasse and avoid direct rule.

"Today, we are asking the secretary of state and the Irish government to reconsider the appointment of a mediator to facilitate the current talks process."

The Alliance Party's Stephen Farry and some of his party colleagues speak to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
The Alliance Party's Stephen Farry and some of his party colleagues speak to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
The SDLP's Nicola Mallon speaks to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
The UUP's Steve Aiken speaks to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
TUV Leader Jim Allister speaks to the media at Stormont on Monday. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

He added: "We see a situation where the DUP and Sinn Fein cannot talk directly to one another, they're engaged in megaphone diplomacy.

"That's not a good way in terms of pursuing negotiations."

Following the SDLP's discussion with Mr Brokenshire, the party's leader Colum Eastwood said "patients, elderly people needing care packages, school children and many others are paying the price for political failure, they deserve to know why" and that the public "deserve to know exactly what the critical issues are in terms of an executive being formed and where each party stands on it".

He stated that his party will be publishing its position in the talks process this week, and called upon the other party leaders to do the same.

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