Belfast Telegraph

Stormont deal unlikely as Sinn Fein rejects any 'joint paper' from governments

By Suzanne Breen

Hopes of a deal to save Stormont are fading rapidly with little chance of Sinn Fein and the DUP reaching a compromise, political sources have said.

With just six days to go until the Government's deadline for a breakthrough expires, Stormont insiders last night said they couldn't see any agreement being reached.

Sinn Fein yesterday claimed London and Dublin were set to present the Northern Ireland parties with their version of a deal to restore the power-sharing executive.

But DUP sources said they were unaware that any such development was on the cards and thought it unlikely.

Republicans warned that any paper drawn up by London and Dublin was likely to fall short of what was required to break the political deadlock. Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy accused both governments of trying to shape the media agenda on the talks process by briefing and spinning falsehoods.

Sinn Fein appears increasingly ill at ease about the fall-out from the negotiations. Talks sources said the party was extremely concerned about being blamed for a return of Tory direct rule.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said if there is no deal by next Monday, he will move to pass a budget for Northern Ireland at Westminster.

When asked about Sinn Fein's claims that a paper was this week to be presented to the parties, a UK Government spokesman would only say: "We continue to assist the parties in efforts to reach agreement."

With no sign of a talks' breakthrough imminent, Mr Murphy said he believed the two governments might try to present a framework agreement and urge the Stormont parties to sign up.

"We strongly suspect that the two governments are shaping up to produce a paper for these talks which would fall short of what is required to have sustainable institutions returned, we have told them that privately," he said.

He warned that if Mr Brokenshire did step in to set a budget, that would be a clear sign the negotiations to restore power-sharing had failed and "run their course".

Asked if passing a budget would mean a return to direct rule, Mr Murphy insisted direct rule was not currently an option under legislation and that London and Dublin should instead work on the basis of "co-stewardship" of Northern Ireland going forward.

But he said Sinn Fein was still committed to the talks.

"We are not about a failure, we are here this week to try to secure an agreement," he added.

The negotiations have been between the DUP and Sinn Fein, with the other parties not involved.

Earlier, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood challenged the two big parties to publish what progress has been made.

He called on them to be straight with the public about the behind-closed-doors talks or else offer a "plan B".

"Week after week, we have heard that they have made 'progress' but with no detail and no substance. They need to put their cards on the table," he said.

"The time for negotiating behind the scenes is over. The public deserve to know why they are paying the price for political failure."

Belfast Telegraph

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