DUP's Foster warns of 'sticking plaster' deal as Sinn Fein says agreement can be found quickly
Arlene Foster has said that any deal to restore power-sharing must not be a "sticking plaster" as Sinn Fein insisted that an agreement could be reached "very, very quickly" with the right political will.
A series of bilateral meetings and a round-table discussion involving all the parties, as well as Secretary of State Julian Smith and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, were held yesterday.
Alliance and the SDLP appealed for compromise to break the political paralysis which has crippled Stormont for almost three years. Both parties said it was time for politicians to go back to work.
The Ulster Unionists declined to comment on the talks.
A small group of anti-Irish Language Act protesters gathered at Stormont as the parties resumed dialogue after the Christmas break.
The DUP leader last night told the Belfast Telegraph: "We have had useful discussions with the government as well as some of the other parties.
"It's time for progress and it's time for a fair and balanced deal.
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"This deal can't be a sticking plaster. It must recognise that there are people in Northern Ireland with a British, Irish and Northern Irish identity as well as those of none.
"No identity should feel denigrated, rather they should all be able to feel at home in Northern Ireland."
Mrs Foster added: "We will undoubtedly face challenges in the future and we need to ensure the Assembly and Executive can navigate the way through. The incentive for one party to collapse or boycott the Assembly for electoral advantage must be dealt with."
Referring to the health and education crisis, the DUP leader said: "So severe are the problems that even a local ministerial decision-maker will struggle with the in-tray unless there is a proper financial package put on the table to help any incoming minister."
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson described the dialogue so far as "very constructive" and said that "all roads lead back to Stormont".
But he warned against "quick-fix solutions", and said the parties "need to get it right" to ensure sustainable government.
"We want Stormont to be credible, strong, robust, so it can withstand the inevitable challenges and difficulties that come down the road," he added.
Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said a deal could be reached swiftly and there was "no need" to draw the talks out until the January 13 deadline set by Mr Smith.
"We think agreement can be reached in short order, we don't see any need to run this down to the wire to January 13 in some kind of dramatic way," he said.
"The issues that we are dealing with are all well rehearsed. What we need now is political will to get down to resolving very, very quickly and that is going to be our focus in the next day or two."
Mr Murphy outlined some of the issues where agreement remains to be reached.
He said: "There are obvious ones around language provision, the petition of concern and its usage, but there are also issues which will be talked out around programme for government, financial resources available to any new Executive.
"This place can't function if we can't deliver for public services; we can't just sit here and be an instrument of Tory austerity.
"We have to have sufficient public resources to be able to deliver services which recognise the particular circumstances in this part of Ireland and the difficulties we face.
"There are a range of issues which will be discussed in the next couple of days.
"None of them, I don't think, need to be exhausted ad infinitum. We need to be bring this to a conclusion.
"There are pressures continuing to mount in relation to public health, health services and the treatment of staff in the health service.
"We need to get back working again so we can fix those as quickly as possible."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that the political will existed to secure a deal and it was time for MLAs to get back to work.
"It has always been the case over the last three years that a deal to restore power-sharing government in Northern Ireland could be done within a matter of hours," he said.
"The political will now exists to secure a deal; it's important that parties work intensively to get this over the line.
"The SDLP has worked hard with other parties to deliver proposals which we believe will unlock the impasse by reforming the petition of concern to make it a human-rights-compliant instrument."
The SDLP leader said his party was prepared to stretch itself to reach a consensus that delivered inclusive institutions.
"Next week healthcare workers will again take strike action in defence of patient safety and to secure a fair deal for hard-pressed front line staff," he said.
"Their needs should be at the front of all our minds in the time ahead. It's time we had a government that delivers for healthcare staff, for schools under immense financial strain and for families facing a welfare cliff-edge.
"This is a time to deliver. It's time for politicians to get back to work."
Alliance MLA John Blair also spoke to the need for compromise.
He said: "A deal can be done but it requires compromise on behalf of all the parties.
"Everyone is aware of the deadline of January 13 and therefore there is time to do a deal if people are committed to it.
"Alliance will continue to play our part in reforming a sustainable Executive.
"We have nothing to fear from an election but we are a party committed to devolution so we can deliver for people."