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Little hope for Stormont political deal as Easter deadline looks set to slip


Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady

Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire

UUP MP Tom Elliott

UUP MP Tom Elliott


Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady

Hopes of a Good Friday Agreement 'Mark Two' are fading as Stormont negotiations enter another crunch week.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire effectively set Good Friday as the latest deadline - although there is speculation the talks will be allowed to continue if progress is being made.

Mr Brokenshire will be required, however, to take decisions setting a budget for government departments and deciding on a regional rate.

But he does not have to give an immediate verdict on calling another Assembly election or moving towards Direct Rule.

With meetings due to resume this morning, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has urged people to pray during the coming Holy Week for the talks.

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin also sent a prayer poem written by the founder of the Christian Renewal Centre in Rostrevor, the Church of Ireland minister, Rev Cecil Kerr.

Archbishop Martin said he was conscious "as we begin Holy Week... this is a critical time in the peace process".

"Our politicians continue to seek a breakthrough at the talks in Stormont.

"I encourage everyone to pray this Holy Week that the talks will be guided by wisdom, courage, right judgment, and a spirit of cooperation and compromise," he said.

"Today I offer the following prayer which was written by Rev Cecil Kerr during some of the worst years of the Troubles, a prayer which we hoped would never have to be used again.

"I encourage all to pray for peace this week."

The poem includes the line: "Help us to be willing to bow before you in true repentance, and to bow to one another in true forgiveness."

Meanwhile, writing in the Belfast Telegraph today, Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill argued the DUP has never endorsed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

"They may have paid lip service to it on occasions, but when it comes down to it; they have never supported the spirit or principles of the Good Friday Agreement itself," she said .

"This is at the core of the political breakdown we face today. And that is what has to change if there is to be any return to the political institutions. We must have unionist partners who accept equal partnership government and rights for all." It was a message underpinned by Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady, who added: "It's increasingly clear that the British government and the DUP have not woken up to the key issues, which were at the heart of the election results.

"Dublin is not a spectator in all of this. In fact, the Irish government is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement - it's time they started acting like it."

While the DUP remained silent over the weekend, Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott gave the downbeat assessment that achieving agreement would almost require a miracle. "There has been quite a lot of talking but in my view progress has been extremely limited, and it is going to take little short of a miracle to get a deal," he said.

Newly-elected UUP leader Robin Swann said: "It is damning that in 2017 the public debate is not centred around what policies our Executive will implement, but whether or not we will actually have an Executive."

Despite a more structured format to the talks, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "The round table format offers the opportunity for more focused engagement, but there remains little sense of momentum on the part of a number of parties, and even an air of complacency over the consequences of continued deadlock."

Belfast Telegraph