Belfast Telegraph

Embarrassing: How SDLP, UUP and Alliance reacted after Prime Minister May and Taoiseach Varadkar visit

The SDLP described the departure of Prime Minster Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar from Belfast without any agreement as "embarrassing".

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said both prime ministers had been brought to sign-off on a deal but were instead left embarrassed by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"For the first time in 13 months people across the north woke up this morning with the real expectation that a deal would finally be done between the DUP and Sinn Fein," he said.

"Two prime ministers were brought up to Stormont for a deal to be done - instead they are leaving here having been embarrassed by the DUP and Sinn Fein."

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SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood speaking to the media at Stormont. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire

He added: "The opportunity is still there to get this deal over the line but it will require a level of leadership and courage that has evaded these parties for far too long. Instead of allowing these parties to run the show, both Governments need to drive this process to a conclusion.

"I’ve also made it clear to both Governments that if a deal is secured we will play our role in any subsequent negotiations on a Programme for Government and we will judge the terms of the deal honestly. However, the SDLP will not be bounced into a Government that fails to deliver on our economy, our health service and our schools.”

UUP leader Robin Swann

Ulster Unionist leader, Robin Swann MLA said that while a deal was still possible, it remained exclusively a two-party process.

“We made clear to the Prime Minister that the Ulster Unionist Party wants to play a positive constructive role in these discussions but we remain excluded from the process," he said.

“If the intention is to form a stable and effective Executive, then this talks process would need to move to the next stage very rapidly.

“The whole premise of the Belfast Agreement was inclusivity. This process has shown no indication of that.

"The long suffering people of Northern Ireland have been subjected to over a year of self-indulgence and political posturing while waiting lists and school budgets are out of control.

“It is well beyond time for the DUP and Sinn Fein to front up and reveal what agreement they have reached so far.”

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Naomi Long MLA leader of the Alliance Party leads her party's delegation for a press conference at Stormont in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

Alliance Leader Naomi Long MLA has said the sustainability of any deal emerging from the current talks process had to be the priority for both Governments.

"We welcomed the opportunity to engage with the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, and to stress to both the importance of ensuring if any deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein is reached in the next few days, it is future proofed and sustainable,” she said.

“Specifically, we stressed reform of the petition of concern is needed. It is vital to prevent any future difficult decisions destabilising a new Executive and Assembly. Deferring the decision itself could create instability later if reform cannot be agreed.

“We also emphasised the impact their approach to Brexit will have on sustainability. Only the UK remaining within a customs union and single market or a special deal for Northern Ireland which avoids a hard border will prevent further political instability. The UK Government has a particular responsibility to recognise the impact of a hard Brexit and hard border on Northern Ireland, and the institutions."

She added: "Finally, we raised the issue of dealing with the past and its legacy, specifically the proposed statute of limitations for soldiers accused of unlawful killings in the Troubles. Such a statute, which was inserted after the Stormont House Agreement and which has the support of no party here, would undermine the rule of law and could seriously derail any deal made from this talks process, not to mention the legacy structures themselves.

“It is vital not only we see an Executive restored, but it is stable and capable of addressing the major political, social and financial challenges which face us. Anything less will fail to restore public confidence in politics and the institutions.”

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