Belfast Telegraph

Stormont deal can be secured ahead of new deadline: DUP

By Suzanne Breen

Senior DUP figures still hold out hope of brokering a deal with Sinn Fein - despite increasing gloom in London and Dublin on the chances of an agreement to save Stormont.

DUP leader Arlene Foster last night indicated that her party wouldn't be found wanting as talks continue to establish a power-sharing executive before a new November 6 deadline.

"Unionism's choice is not between saying yes to anything or no to everything. There is a middle path of saying yes to the right thing at the right time," she said.

"This has been the DUP's approach and it has delivered more for unionism and Northern Ireland than any other strategy."

Mrs Foster was speaking to a gathering of party supporters in Tyrone as it was claimed Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill had been ready to do a deal with the DUP on the Irish language issue, but had been overruled by senior party members.

The DUP leader said while solid progress had been made in the talks, differences still remained and hurdles had to be overcome.

"The DUP team has seen every negotiating tactic and trick there is," she said.

"Predictions of agreements and false briefings will not bounce the DUP. Parties playing games with proposals put forward one day and withdrawn the next won't make the DUP blink either."

Mr Brokenshire set yet another talks deadline yesterday. Addressing the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster, he said the prospects for a deal "do not look positive at this time".

The absolute latest date for establishing an Executive in order for a budget to be set was the week beginning November 6, he stated.

The Secretary of State warned that if no deal was evident, he would need to begin the legislation process for the week beginning October 30 in the House of Commons.

He insisted this didn't "denote" direct rule, but repeated "we're on a glide path to more Westminster intervention". He added that "the landing lights will be on and landing gear coming down... clearly the ultimate destination could be direct rule".

Mr Brokenshire revealed that he is considering new laws to dock MLAs' £49,500 salaries. He said they accepted they couldn't keep being paid while the Assembly wasn't meeting.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell told him that if their salaries were cut, MLAs should continue to receive constituency funding in order to run their offices and pay staff.

Both British and Irish government sources concurred with an Irish Times report that Mrs O'Neill had been overruled on a deal with the DUP by other senior republicans.

Mrs O'Neill denied the report, and described Mr Brokenshire's announcement of another deadline for the talks as unhelpful. 

"It has been our consistent resolve to get these institutions restored to be delivering for all citizens," she said.

"Considerable challenges remain and one way or another these negotiations will come to an end.

"I think James Brokenshire's announcement on the budget is not helpful in that it clearly signifies the end of this phase of negotiation."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said Mr Brokenshire must look at other options if the DUP and Sinn Fein couldn't form a government.

"It is a scandal that the country is still being held to ransom by ideological demands," he said.

"The people of Northern Ireland deserve better."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Sinn Fein and the DUP had brought Northern Ireland to the brink of a return to "British direct rule".

The nationalist community in particular would be disappointed that after "years of trying to bring power back to Irish soil", it was now "being handed back to a Tory/DUP government in London", he said.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said it was unbelievable that Sinn Fein and the DUP had put Irish language and culture "on such a pedestal that they have lost a sense of proportion on the wider need to provide good governance to Northern Ireland".

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "I'm not surprised a deal hasn't been reached.

"Sinn Fein were never interested in making Northern Ireland work.

"Too many people engaged for too long in a fool's errand to find a sticking plaster for Stormont. It's time to put Stormont out of its misery and move on to voluntary coalition or direct rule".

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May and ex-US President Bill Clinton will meet to discuss the Northern Ireland talks deadlock in Downing Street today.

Mr Clinton, a long-time supporter of the peace process, had meetings with Mrs Foster and Mrs O'Neill on Tuesday.

January 9

A terminally ill Martin McGuinness resigns as Deputy First Minister in protest at the DUP's handling of the RHI scandal. His resignation triggers the collapse of the Assembly and Executive.

February 6

Arlene Foster declares that she will never agree to an Irish Language Act. "If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more," she says.

March 2

Assembly elections bring significant gains for Sinn Fein giving them 27 seats to the DUP's 28.

March 6

Secretary of State James Brokenshire calls the parties together for talks.

March 27

The deadline for formation of a new executive passes without agreement.

April 18

Another talks deadline passes without agreement.

June 8

The Westminster election brings gains for Sinn Fein but especially the DUP whose 10 MPs hold the balance of power at Westminster. The DUP agrees a confidence and supply deal with the Tories.

June 29

Yet another talks deadline passes but the date for agreement is extended.

August 31

Arlene Foster says the Irish language is no threat to union and offers a compromise proposal which is immediately rejected by Sinn Fein.

September 24

Gerry Adams insists his party does want a deal at Stormont.

October 3

Ms O'Neill and Mrs Foster clash over whether Northern Ireland is Irish or British at the Tory conference.

October 17

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says the DUP and Sinn Fein are no longer close to a deal.

October 18

Ms O'Neill denies reports she was over-ruled on a deal by senior party figures as Mr Brokenshire sets a new talks deadline.

October 30

Legislation for a budget must begin this week.

November 6

An Executive must be formed this week in order for a budget to be passed.

November 7

The RHI inquiry is set to open.

Belfast Telegraph

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