Progress at talks, but Stormont deal is not imminent
The Northern Ireland Office has said it won’t be legislating at Westminster today to allow a new power-sharing Executive to be formed.
The announcement follows media speculation at the weekend that a deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP was imminent, with Arlene Foster’s party engaging in a consultation process with its grassroots over the package.
The DUP last night also moved to dismiss reports that the finishing touches were being put to an agreement it had reached with Sinn Fein.
Stormont sources said that while a compromise was shaping up between the two parties on some issues, other areas remained unresolved. A NIO spokesman confirmed that Secretary of State James Brokenshire would not be introducing legislation in the House of Commons today to either restore the Stormont institutions or to pass a budget for Northern Ireland.
However, he added that Westminster would set a budget by the end of the month if there was no breakthrough at the talks.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell yesterday rejected reports of an imminent deal as “unreliable”, but he acknowledged that progress had been made in his party’s talks with republicans.
Mr Campbell said that while Sinn Fein had begun to move in the direction of a deal which would be acceptable to all sections of the community, there was “a considerable distance still to travel”.
In his statement he stressed that a quick outcome to negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein was always unrealistic. “When two sides are trying to negotiate and reach a settlement, particularly when they are very far apart at the outset, it obviously takes time to try and reach an acceptable outcome,” Mr Campbell said.
“It becomes much harder when one of those — in this case Sinn Fein — have put themselves in such a predicament by declaring absolute preconditions at the outset and therefore have much further to travel to come within the boundaries of a possible agreement.”
Mr Campbell said that “the parameters” of an agreement were “crystal clear for all who are willing to see them” and that any outcome must “command acceptance and support” across the community.
“We will accept nothing less,” he stated.
“Sinn Fein started many miles away from coming within those parameters.
“If they are moving, albeit slowly, in that direction that is a good thing.
“No one should denigrate that, but there is a considerable distance still to travel.”
Saturday’s News Letter reported that the DUP leadership was carrying out an informal consultation process about the outline of a deal.
But the DUP claimed “there is no basis upon which to consult”.
In a statement in response to the media reports, the party insisted that claims an agreement was imminent with the Assembly meeting in days had “no basis in fact given the present state of the talks”.
A DUP spokesman said that while progress had been made in the negotiations, “significant areas of difference remain to be overcome”. He added: “We remain committed to trying to secure an agreement that can be supported by unionists as well as nationalists and we have been working to that end.
“Any talks outcomes will be judged against the criteria we published in our March Assembly election manifesto.
“We will not, however, be a party to facilitate an outcome that is one-sided in nature and not in the best interests of Northern Ireland.”
Speaking in Dublin, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams agreed with the DUP that there were unresolved issues in the talks.
“The reasons they haven’t been resolved is because the DUP has to get itself into a psychological space which it has resisted, and that is the rights which people will have everywhere in these islands, that they can also have in the North,” he said.