Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland talks pace to quicken but parties warn over optimism

Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein has said that a 25-minute meeting at Stormont yesterday is not the intensification of talks to restore devolution that the British and Irish Governments had promised.

But the pace of the discussions is expected to quicken this week.

Talks sources said the five working groups set up to tackle the stumbling blocks to progress could be reduced to two with the party leaders playing a more integral role.

Roundtable talks will be held tomorrow and Thursday, with bilateral meetings starting next week.

London and Dublin are pushing the parties to reach a deal before the end of the month that would see the Assembly and Executive in place before the onset of the marching season. But local party sources last night cautioned against optimism.

Sinn Fein said all the parties must show the political determination to secure agreement despite the "improbable" circumstances.

The party's vice president Michelle O'Neill said: "The public deserve an Assembly and Executive, one that functions well, one that serves them well, one that looks after all in society.

"We are determined to try and achieve that, so what is required in this space is political will."

DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party was engaging positively in the talks.

"I very much hope that we can continue in the constructive way that we have been engaging and we can find a way forward," she said.

"We are up for finding a way forward as quickly as possible. It has to be a balanced way forward and one that everyone in society can sign up to."

UUP leader Robin Swann has said the talks must address reforming the petition of concern and transparency and governance issues if progress is to be made.

"It is now time to get down to the nitty-gritty of this talks process," he said.

"We are at the stage where decisions have to be taken and we have a very small window to get Stormont and the institutions restored. It must be borne in mind that the long-awaited RHI report will feed into all of this.

"It would be totally counter-productive for us to set a lower bar than the one that may be suggested by Sir Patrick Coghlin."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "This will not get done if it goes beyond the end of this month. We can do it a lot sooner than that if people are up for it, but it needs to happen this month or I don't think it will happen.

"We know from bitter experience what the summer can bring in Northern Ireland; we know the political difficulties that we are going to face in September and October. Now is the time to do it - we have no more excuses."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "There is a precious window over the next few weeks to get things done. There are no guarantees but the only way we can achieve a positive outcome is if people are prepared to work intensively towards attaining it, while showing a sufficient degree of creativity and willingness to compromise for the wider good."

TUV leader Jim Allister said the talks were a "fraudulent con" in pretending that it was possible to reinvigorate the Stormont system.

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