Belfast Telegraph

Cool response as Alliance bids to kick-start fresh political talks

By Gillian Halliday

Alliance leader Naomi Long has invited the Stormont parties to a meeting in a bid to kick-start talks next week aimed at restoring power-sharing.

The East Belfast MLA, who said she sent out letters to fellow party leaders last week, made the offer amid what she described as "growing frustration" at the ongoing political impasse.

While there has been speculation over a new round of negotiations for the autumn, no date has been announced.

Mrs Long's invite comes as the DUP and Sinn Fein again blamed each other for the stalemate as Northern Ireland passed Belgium's milestone as the country that has gone the longest in peacetime without a government.

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Public take part in the ‘We Deserve Better’ rally in Enniskillen

The DUP marked the occasion yesterday by unfurling a banner outside Stormont calling on Sinn Fein to end its "boycott" of the devolved administration.

"There is only one problem party and let's call it out - that's Sinn Fein," said DUP leader Arlene Foster, adding that she shared the public's frustrations.

"And they need to end their boycott here in Northern Ireland."

Mrs Foster also repeated her call for government to be restored while a parallel process to resolve outstanding issues is run.

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Public take part in the ‘We Deserve Better’ rally in Portadown

In response, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy ruled out the twin track approach but stressed his party's commitment to power-sharing. He claimed the DUP had not been in contact with Sinn Fein for weeks, and engagement prior to that over the summer had been minimal.

It has consistently maintained that the DUP's blocking of "rights-based" issues - such as protections for Irish language speakers, the introduction of same-sex marriage and the release of additional funds for historic inquests on killings carried out by the security forces - were the major stumbling blocks to resolution.

"Those rights issues will continue to have to be addressed, they are still here, they are still part of the reason why this institution collapsed, they are going to have to be addressed," said the Newry and Armagh MLA.

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Public take part in the ‘We Deserve Better’ rally in Derry

Mrs Long said the DUP's pointing of the finger of blame at Sinn Fein would not deter her from going ahead with the meeting, which is planned for next Monday.

"Despite the DUP's attempts to play down my invitation, and to look to put blame elsewhere, that party must accept the role it has played and continues to play in holding Northern Ireland to a standstill," she said.

"I hope to see Arlene Foster next Monday, allowing the DUP to prove through actions that they are dedicated to securing Northern Ireland's future and not just cheap political stunts."

Green leader Steven Agnew's attendance was confirmed last night by his party, although the UUP's Robin Swann cast doubts over the prospect of the meeting taking place.

"The UUP has been engaging with other parties for the last 18 months," he said.

"We are happy to meet other parties but we need all parties round the table and it is my understanding that Sinn Fein have already said they are not available next Monday or Tuesday."

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People in Portadown braving the rain to demonstrate last night

The SDLP was also asked if its leader Colum Eastwood had accepted the invite, but a response was not received.

Mrs Long made it clear that all of the parties were culpable.

"Ultimately, finding agreement lies primarily with local parties," she said.

"While there are still key issues which divide the parties, I hope the desire to better serve those who elected us represents a point of agreement on which we can start to build."

Belfast Telegraph

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