Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Foster signals no Stormont deal in the offing and urges Brokenshire to prepare budget

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP is calling on the Secretary of State to bring forward a budget for Northern Ireland as today's deadline for a deal seems set to pass without an agreement.

Arlene Foster's party and Sinn Fein have just hours left to reach a compromise to restore power-sharing before Mr Brokenshire returns to Westminster.

He is expected to begin moves to pass a budget in the House of Commons tomorrow if no deal is reached. Talks are continuing at Stormont today but the two parties remain at loggerheads over an Irish Language Act.

A DUP spokesman last night said: "We will continue our discussions on the basis that we believe devolution is best for Northern Ireland.

"But, given that Sinn Fein have dragged their feet over the last 10 months, the Secretary of State should bring forward a budget to bring a measure of good government to Northern Ireland."

The DUP spokesman said his party wanted to see an executive set up as soon as possible but added: "Sinn Fein in particular have to realise that an agreement will only be possible when they drop red line demands.

"We will not be a party to a bad agreement cobbled together to suddenly suit the timetables of others."

The Northern Ireland Office said James Brokenshire will be at the Stormont talks today but will head to London tomorrow where he will brief the Cabinet on the negotiations.

Unionist sources said if today's deadline passed without agreement, talks would continue for a few weeks but would not run beyond November.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described a budget delivered by Mr Brokenshire as "direct rule - it can't be painted or presented in any other way".

He said: "Arlene Foster and the DUP are being gifted a blank cheque over all of our futures. A Tory-DUP government is a combination which will do nothing to respect the Irish identity or protect our collective rights.

"Nationalism across this island deserves a better strategy than the one which has left us with no Assembly, no North-South institutions, no voice in the context of Brexit and is now threatening to place us at the prolonged mercy of a coalition between the DUP and the Tories at Westminster. Sinn Fein's negotiating has delivered British direct rule."

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken warned that Northern Ireland was heading towards direct rule "unless something dramatically changes in the next 24 hours".

He said: "It is unlikely that there will be a deal before the DUP and Sinn Fein party conferences.

"Arlene Foster won't want to be trying to sell a deal which contains an Irish Language Act and Gerry Adams will lose face if he tries to sell a deal which doesn't have one. Therein lies the problem."

Mr Aiken said Sinn Fein's position in the negotiations would be decided in the Felons' Club in west Belfast. He urged Sinn Fein representatives and members to start "standing up and speaking out" against the leaders who had taken them into "the present political cul-de-sac".

He added: "Other Sinn Fein members in the Republic of Ireland have done it, it's a pity some didn't do the same in Northern Ireland.

"All communities are being affected by this political impasse, including their own."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said that the failure to reach a deal didn't mean the end of Stormont and that he had asked Mr Brokenshire to reform the petition of concern in Westminster. "The gains of recent decades have been hard won and should not be discarded without exploring all the options and alternatives," he said.

"The mutual vetoes in the hands of the DUP and Sinn Fein seriously hamper free and open debate and decision-making.

"All the current issues which appear to be blockages to agreement, including language and culture, could be addressed through public debate and a proportionate resolution on the Assembly floor.

"Any outcome would reflect the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

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