DUP demand 'fair and balanced deal' after being blamed by Julian Smith for holding up Stormont return
Secretary of State Julian Smith has said that a deal to restore Stormont before Christmas could have been reached on Thursday night, but the DUP were not on board.
Speaking after a meeting with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and the five main parties in Northern Ireland, he said a deal was very close and that Stormont could be restored by Monday, but that an "extremely limited" number of outstanding issues were preventing an agreement.
Mr Smith said the Government were nearly ready to table a deal with "compromise and accommodation for all parties".
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The Secretary of State said he wanted to present the deal on Thursday night or Friday, but that further negotiation was needed.
"I think that can take a matter of hours and not days," he said.
Former DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots said his party would only sign up to a "fair and balanced" deal.
Mr Smith had convened a health summit, as parts of the talks process to restore powersharing.
He said that the UK Government was ready to provide "positive funding" and asked parties to reflect on the health workers who took strike action.
He said he was "heartened" party leaders had taken the decision to deliver pay parity to health staff and said a solution to the health crisis could be reached "well before Christmas".
The Secretary of State said that "unfortunately, we do not have all parties on board".
"We will allow all parties to reflect on the impact of that decision on people in Northern Ireland who are deeply affected by the lack of decision-making at Stormont," he said.
Asked if the DUP were the party holding up agreement, Mr Smith replied "that is my understanding, that was confirmed tonight". He indicated he believed that some within the DUP wanted to move forward.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Poots reiterated the party position that it was prepared to restore devolution immediately and address outstanding issues in a parallel process.
"There has been some effort by others to box us into a corner and force us into a position where we do not get a fair and balanced deal," he said.
"The DUP will not be moving forward unless we get a fair and balanced deal."
He said he would not allow "cherry picking" of the Good Friday Agreement in relation to the Assembly petition of concern.
Mr Poots added there remained sensitive issues around the Irish language. He accused the Government of not producing the figures in terms of what money it was prepared to stump up.
"We are not under any pressure, we are going to get the right, fair and balanced deal for all of the community and in particular the community that we represent, we are not going to abandon at the behest of any Government or any other political party in Northern Ireland," he said.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said he wanted "all parties to be positively part of the new Stormont".
"The DUP is a crucial part of that. I don't think time is going to make any difference, I think hanging around, delay, not making decisions is not going to make any difference, it is only going to cause more heartache and problems for citizens in Northern Ireland," he said.
"I am deeply disappointed that we have not got all five parties in agreement."
Tanaiste Simon Coveney said the two Governments believed a "fair compromise" had been reached.
"If necessary we'll hold back and do this after Christmas, with a view to try and close this out definitely before the 13th, which is a very real deadline," he said.
"If we get a change in approach, from one party in particular later on this evening, we can still go for this before Christmas.
"If we don't get that signal we're certainly not going to be bringing parties back here tomorrow wasting their time."
Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Conor Murphy said his party was "deeply disappointed" that a deal had not been reached.
"It is our understanding that both governments and at least three other political parties are in this space," he said.
"The onus is now on the DUP, once again, to tell the public why they are now holding up the restoration of the Assembly.”
UUP leader Steve Aiken confirmed his party were ready to reach a deal and said they did not know the DUP's outstanding concerns.
"It would be interesting if we knew what the DUP's legitimate concerns were," he said.
"All five parties need to be involved."
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long urged the parties to agree a deal before Christmas.
"I believe a deal could be done now, real progress has been made - unfortunately not all of the parties agree that is the case," the MEP said.
"People now need to have the courage and lead, rather than simply wait for others."
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon told reporters she was up for a pre-Christmas deal and was disappointed that would not be the case.
"Our nurses deserve it, our healthcare workers deserve it, our teachers deserve it and the people of Northern Ireland deserve it," the North Belfast MLA said.
"We know what the issues are, we all have to stretch ourselves, the SDLP are up for stretching ourselves and we sincerely hope that if the DUP are going to put the interests of the people of Northern Ireland first then they will stretch themselves."
Additional reporting by PA