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Brokenshire sets a deadline of Good Friday for parties to strike a deal


Secretary of State James Brokenshire visiting Antrim Area Hospital yesterday

Secretary of State James Brokenshire visiting Antrim Area Hospital yesterday

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Secretary of State James Brokenshire visiting Antrim Area Hospital yesterday

Secretary of State James Brokenshire went to the front line of healthcare yesterday - to warn politicians they must come up with a cure to restore devolution urgently.

And Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill also warned last night: "The next week is critical in the political talks. The political stakes are high."

On a visit to Antrim Area Hospital, Mr Brokenshire stressed that the ongoing talks cannot continue indefinitely and only a "narrow window" remained.

He said he would make a call on the state of negotiations over the Easter weekend - in 10 days - to enable him to move legislation in Westminster once MPs return from recess on April 18.

His comments effectively make Good Friday the deadline for the region's rowing parties to reach consensus - a timeline that is sure to prompt comparisons with the tense negotiations ahead of the historic Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

While doctors, nurses and support healthcare professionals ensured that local people can avail of a range of services close to home, Mr Brokenshire insisted the lack of an Executive and Assembly caused "uncertainty for those providing vital front line services".

He said: "Public services will suffer if there continues to be political stalemate.

The UK Government will not allow political talks to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland to drift past Easter, Secretary of State James Brokenshire has warned.

"Budgets need to be established in order to provide much-needed services for the public.

"That is why I am urging the political parties to continue to talk and find a way through the outstanding issues.

"It remains important that an agreement is reached which enables the restoration of devolved government. This is absolutely critical for Northern Ireland and its people."

Sinn Fein slammed Mr Brokenshire's concern for public services as "a bit rich".

Former Executive minister Conor Murphy said: "Relentless Tory cuts and austerity policies have taken hundreds of millions of pounds out of public services over the last seven years and the Tories are also pursuing a pro-Brexit agenda which will be disastrous for the people of this island."

Nonethelesss, Mr Brokenshire, who has been co-hosting the talks which resumed this week after collapsing a week earlier, reiterated that he would be forced to take decisions, including on the regional rate, over Easter.

"I need to make decisions over the Easter period to bring legislation forward at Westminster. That is the timeline I am working to," he said.

"It is that Easter focus that I have on needing for me to take decisions and therefore to introduce legislation there afterwards so that we can get on with the job, get an Executive back in place and, equally for me, if we don't see that, to start to make decisions about what further contingencies may need to be put into place."

But Mrs O'Neill last night demanded a "step change" from the UK Government and DUP if the talks are to succeed.

At a public meeting in Londonderry, she said there had been "little progress" on the key political issues since the election last month, including dealing with the legacy of the Troubles, a Bill of Rights and Irish language legislation.

"Getting the political institutions back in place will be a challenge given the DUP's stated position on an Irish Language Act, a Bill of Rights and other fundamental requirements, and the British Government's obstructive approach to legacy issues and other matters," she added.

"The reality is that the British Government has abjectly failed to honour its commitments on equality and rights. They must now step up and deliver on their commitments otherwise restoring the institutions is in serious doubt. The institutions will not be restored without movement on these key issues."

Belfast Telegraph