Fresh hopes for deal after DUP welcomes Sinn Fein 'change of tone' on talks
The DUP last night welcomed an apparent change of tone in Sinn Fein's attitude to the Stormont talks, as Gerry Adams pledged that he was prepared to do business with Arlene Foster's party.
The further thawing in relations between the two parties comes as politicians meet today to continue negotiations to restore power-sharing.
If they don't reach agreement within a fortnight, Secretary of State James Brokenshire will move in the House of Commons to pass a budget for Northern Ireland.
Mr Adams yesterday rejected as "a lie" claims that his party had no interest in reaching a deal with Mrs Foster's party.
He said: "So, in order that there is no doubt, let me make it clear to everyone, including republican grassroots - our leadership is up for doing a deal with the DUP and the other parties, and of moving back into the Executive on that basis."
The Sinn Fein president's words were welcomed as a move in the right direction by DUP MLA Simon Hamilton.
"Gerry Adams' change of tone is a step forward. The DUP has no preconditions and stands ready to re-establish an Executive immediately. We will be engaging with Sinn Fein this week. We want to see government restored," he said.
"We want to see culture and language matters fairly addressed. We will not accept cultural supremacy for one section of our community. There is enough space in Northern Ireland for mutual respect and a shared future."
However, despite the softening of tone by Mr Adams, DUP insiders remain pessimistic about an imminent deal, citing Sinn Fein's "unrealistic demands" on the Irish language.
"Sinn Fein has drawn a lot of red lines and, unless these are removed, a deal by next month will be hard to reach," a party source said. "Gerry Adams' more moderate language is to be welcomed, but it's a change in approach by Sinn Fein that we need."
A standalone Irish Language Act remains the major obstacle to an agreement. DUP insiders said Sinn Fein's demands include road signs in Irish, a language commissioner with the powers of a High Court judge, and positive discrimination for Irish speakers in the Civil Service.
Addressing a republican commemoration in west Belfast yesterday, Mr Adams said: "Sinn Fein is fully committed to the power-sharing institutions and we are working to restore them.
"However, the lesson of recent years is clear. As Martin McGuinness reminded us, the political institutions can only work if they are based on equality, respect and integrity.
"Our opponents, including elements in the DUP, the Fianna Fail leadership and others claim Sinn Fein is no longer interested in the Assembly. They know this is a lie.
"The DUP leadership in particular know this. They also know the conditions that are required for sustainable institutions to deliver for all our people on education, health, housing and anti-poverty needs, as well as the necessary work of reconciliation."
In response, Mr Hamilton claimed government in Northern Ireland had been "held to ransom" by republicans for "narrow political reasons" over the past six months.
"Whilst language and culture are important, so too are decisions on health, education and infrastructure," he added.
Last month the DUP offered to legislate for the Irish language within a time-limited period if devolution was immediately restored. Mr Hamilton said: "We made a reasonable offer which would have seen government restored and negotiations on cultural matters take place in parallel. Disappointingly, SF rejected this offer within 90 minutes."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar are due to meet in Downing Street today. They will discuss Brexit developments including the future of the Irish border, the common travel area, and provisions to protect the peace process.