Belfast Telegraph

DUP and SF won't do a deal before party conferences: Swann

By Suzanne Breen

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has said there is little chance of a deal to restore power-sharing ahead of the DUP and Sinn Fein annual conferences.

Mr Swann said the public needed to be told the reality of the political situation at Stormont.

"Why don't the two largest parties tell the people the truth? Is there going to be any agreement this side of the DUP and Sinn Fein party conferences? I can't see it unless there's a dramatic change in attitude," he said.

"Arlene Foster isn't going to go to her party conference to sell a deal which contains an Irish Language Act, stand-alone or otherwise, and Gerry Adams isn't going to go to Sinn Fein's with a deal which doesn't have one," he said.

The DUP and Sinn Fein are due to hold their annual conferences next month. Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said that if a deal isn't reached to restore devolution by Monday, he will be forced to pass a budget for Northern Ireland at Westminster.

Stormont sources don't believe the two biggest parties will reach a deal in the next four days. Mr Swann said that the political paralysis showed that the system of mandatory coalition was a failure.

"It's time to end this charade and start planning for alternatives such as voluntary coalition. Why should this country be held to ransom for the advantage of any political party?

"Sinn Fein's demands framed as rights cannot, and should not, be allowed to trump the rights of the sick and vulnerable. The government needs to step in and act now," he said.

Meanwhile, Alliance has called on Mr Brokenshire to legislate for reform of the petition of concern in order to allow the Assembly to be restored.

Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong said this would allow issues such as equal marriage and an Irish Language Act to be debated in the Assembly instead of blocking the talks and preventing the return of power-sharing.

She said: "Alliance have argued the petition needs radical reform to bring it back into line with the original spirit it was intended for in the Good Friday Agreement, which was to avoid discrimination against any particular section of the community.

"We have proposed the petition can only be used in the context of matters of national identity, legacy issues and matters relating to the constitutional structures of Northern Ireland.

"Alliance is calling on the Secretary of State to directly legislate on petition of concern reform through Westminster and see if the Assembly can then be restored in that new context."

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