Belfast Telegraph

DUP holds up deal for power-sharing as Smith suggests cash boost on offer

Julian Smith at Stormont after talks finished on Thursday night
Julian Smith at Stormont after talks finished on Thursday night

By Michael McHugh

The British and Irish governments have accused the DUP of thwarting a pre-Christmas deal on restoring power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

Extra money for the crisis-hit health system and other projects is on offer, Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said.

But significant gaps remain on the place of the Irish language and reform of devolved institutions which have been in deep freeze for almost three years, the DUP said.

Mr Smith said: "I am deeply disappointed that we have not got all five parties in agreement. I just hope there is time tonight to reflect on that decision. I know there are people in the DUP who want to move forward; I would urge them to move forward so that we can get this done."

The DUP said they would not be forced into a deal which is not fair and balanced.

Senior negotiator Edwin Poots said: "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."

As well as division over the Irish language, there is a row over the petition of concern - a mechanism designed to protect minority rights in the Stormont institutions that has been misused to veto significant change like abortion, critics believe. Mr Poots said he would not be "cherry picking" the Good Friday Agreement which led to the formation of the institutions.

Mr Smith said the Assembly could have been back up and running again by Monday with a significant cash injection from his Government to address spending woes. He said: "We want 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 his officials were ready to table the draft text of an agreement yesterday but would not now do so.

Sinn Fein's senior negotiator, Conor Murphy, said his party had wanted to sign off on a deal.

"I don't understand why the DUP are telling the media that this has to be closed down for Christmas. There is an onus on us all to reach an agreement to address the outstanding issues and get back into the institutions and have them working for all the people."

Tanaiste Simon Coveney said: "There is a deal to be done, Northern Ireland can move forward, Stormont can turn the lights back on and start making decisions for Northern Ireland again."

Nichola Mallon, deputy leader of the nationalist SDLP, said public services deserved a reprieve.

"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."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: "People now need to have the courage to actually lead rather than simply to wait for direction from others."

UUP leader Steve Aiken said: "It is not the best Christmas message that we could have hoped for but there is still hope there and we as the UUP will be making sure that we get through and try and get a deal done by the earliest part of January."

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