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Northern Ireland parties to meet May as fears grow deal could hit Stormont hopes

By Noel McAdam

The Prime Minister will meet all of Northern Ireland's main parties in London today after a deal between the Conservatives and the DUP to form the next government was postponed.

The DUP will hold its second meeting in three days with Theresa May and Secretary of State James Brokenshire, while an arrangement for the party to prop up a Tory administration with its seven MPs has yet to be agreed.

Sinn Fein, SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance teams will hold separate sessions with the PM in Downing Street - with all warning any agreement between Mrs May and Arlene Foster must not undermine the prospects of reviving the collapsed Stormont Executive.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance have also insisted Mr Brokenshire cannot be an impartial chairman of the talks to restore the Stormont power-sharing institutions because of the DUP/Tory link-up.

Meetings at Stormont, meanwhile, are in limbo. A round-table session had been envisaged for today involving Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan. And it is not clear if there will be meetings tomorrow.

Mr Brokenshire insisted that today's meetings in London would "build on the political discussions that restarted on Monday in Belfast".

"The UK Government is offering whatever support we can, working alongside the Irish Government, as appropriate, honouring our respective commitments in the Belfast Agreement to serve the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland."

And he warned: "There is very little time left. An agreement to restore devolved power-sharing in Stormont must be reached by the June 29 deadline. Ultimately, I think the parties understand people voted in the March Assembly elections for a strong voice at Stormont. Northern Ireland's political leaders now have it in their hands to take control and shape a brighter future for everyone in Northern Ireland."

The London tower block disaster yesterday meant any announcement of an agreement between the Conservatives and DUP had to be postponed.

And it now appears there will be no formal finalisation of the 'confidence and supply' arrangement until next week. Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill - who is to meet new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin tomorrow - said she would tell Mrs May that any deal with the DUP must not threaten the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements.

"Progress will not come from a deal between the DUP and Tories to prop up a government in Westminster with an austerity and Brexit agenda but through the full implementation of the agreements and an Executive that respects the rights and delivers for all in society," she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "The SDLP are clear that any deal struck must not hinder cross-community confidence in our politics. We are steadfast in our commitment to devolution and are ready to work with all willing partners to restore the devolved institutions in the interests of all our people."

Ongoing negotiations between Conservatives and DUP make it increasingly likely the Queen's Speech setting out the Government's intentions may have to be put back from its scheduled date of next Monday.

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