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Big Two warn: No grandstanding or we'll cut talks short

By Noel McAdam

Published 11/05/2016

Colum Eastwood
Colum Eastwood
Mitchel McLaughlin
Robin Newton
Stewart Dickson

The DUP and Sinn Fein have warned they could cut the Stormont talks short if other parties use the negotiations as a platform to attack them.

After the first meeting of the five main parties to discuss a Programme for Government, sources from the Big Two said they would not tolerate the negotiations being used by the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP for "grandstanding".

Yesterday morning's round-table session in Parliament Buildings at Stormont finished in under half-an-hour amid signs the hard bargaining over policy detail will not begin until next week.

The negotiations may then go into the following week, potentially knocking the appointment of ministers back until the end of the month.

The UUP and SDLP are faced with having to decide whether to take the Executive seats their mandates entitle them to - one apiece - or to go into Opposition.

A senior Sinn Fein source said: "If there is the will, it should not take all of the 14 days allocated to get through a Programme for Government.

"A lot of preparatory work has already been done.

"But if, on a day and daily basis, we see the smaller parties coming down and using the talks to criticise us then we would be able to cut them short.

"The election is over.

"We want to see serious engagement."

Sinn Fein and the DUP have the numbers - 66 out of 108 MLAs - to push the Programme for Government through the Assembly, although the draft version will go out for an eight-week public consultation first.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt came under fire only a few hours after the meeting had finished.

Alliance claimed he had breached confidentiality by briefing the waiting media that David Ford's party had been offered the Department of Justice.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said: "I understand this morning's meeting was clearly laid out as a confidential one between the parties to discuss a range of issues relating to the Programme for Government.

"For Mr Nesbitt to hurry out and go straight to the media claiming to know all sorts shows the flippant attitude of the UUP towards the talks and their level of commitment.

"The UUP haven't yet declared whether they will be in the Executive or not.

"Unlike others, Alliance attended with the correct attitude and willingness to get a result for the people of Northern Ireland, rather than a few headlines."

At the meeting the UUP, SDLP and Alliance were given copies of a document setting out broad proposals.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said they were "a long way off" from sorting out the Programme for Government.

The three smaller parties have been asked to give an initial response to the paper in the next few days.

Tomorrow, the first meeting of the Assembly since last week's election is due, with the reappointments of First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

The session is also due to decide on the next Speaker for the Assembly after Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin stood down.

There is speculation the new Speaker could be the DUP's Robin Newton.

Belfast Telegraph

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