Sinn Fein chief slams Government over ‘procrastination’
As talks in Brussels turned again to the thorny issue of the Irish border, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald insisted it needed to be resolved by June at the latest.
She accused the UK Government of "bluster and procrastination" on the issue and said concrete proposals on how it intended to avoid a hard border were needed.
"The reality is we should at this stage have seen some concrete proposal from the British Government," she said. "The idea of pushing this out to October is absolutely unacceptable."
Speaking in Belfast, Mrs McDonald had a blunt message for the UK Government.
"They need to understand that further delay is not acceptable, they need to show us the colour of their money, they need to put forward a concrete proposition and proposal as to how Ireland is protected, how the north of Ireland is protected, how our peace agreements are protected, how our economy is protected."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May gave a statement to Parliament on last week's EU Council meeting. She said "key questions" remain to be resolved on the withdrawal agreement - including how commitments to avoid a hard Irish border should be turned into legal text.
"As I have made clear, we remain committed to the agreement we reached in December in its entirety," Mrs May said.
"This includes a commitment to agree operational legal text for the 'backstop option' set out in the Joint Report - although it remains my firm belief that we can and will find the best solutions for Northern Ireland as part of the overall future relationship between the UK and the EU.
"I have explained that the specific European Commission proposals for that backstop were unacceptable because they were not in line with the Belfast Agreement and threatened the break-up of the UK's internal market. And as such they were not a fair reflection of the joint report.
"But there are many issues on which we can agree with the commission and we are committed to working intensively to resolve those which remain outstanding.
"So I welcome that we are beginning a dedicated set of talks today with the European Commission - and where appropriate the Irish government - so that we can work together to agree the best way to fulfil the commitments we have made."
DUP MP Nigel Dodds told the PM there was "bemusement" in Northern Ireland "that there is so much concentration on the backstop when we should be getting on negotiating the overall agreement that will actually take care of the Irish border issue".