Belfast Telegraph

'Deadline' extended as parties make last-ditch bid for a deal

By David Young

The Stormont multi-party talks limped on last night in a last-ditch effort to reach agreement.

While there was a consensus on returning for further negotiations, the discussions appeared to be on life-support.

A last-minute, limited agreement was being considered, but some of the parties were still pressing for a more comprehensive deal, which could take longer than this weekend.

The British and Irish governments decided to extend an informal deadline in the hope the negotiations could end without immediate acrimony.

A 'soft landing' scenario could include an indication the main parties will be able to put a budget through the Assembly in January.

Sources claimed the parties were close to agreement on a shake-up of Stormont, which would see the current 108 MLAs reduced to 90 - albeit perhaps not until the election after next in 2021 - and Government departments cut from the current 12 to nine.

Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said: "The Irish Government remains committed to a successful conclusion to this talks process and to securing a comprehensive agreement acceptable to all parties."

He added that the Irish team and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers would continue "to work to this end" and there was speculation the talking could resume on Monday.

Ms Villiers had been expected to make a decision around 5pm yesterday on whether the talks should continue or be postponed for the Christmas holidays. Instead, the talking went on until shortly before 7pm, with Sinn Fein saying it had urged the British and Irish to "remain engaged".

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