Belfast Telegraph

Stormont talks: Julian Smith 'confident' after 'positive meeting' with DUP

Julian Smith at Stormont after talks finished on Thursday night
Julian Smith at Stormont after talks finished on Thursday night

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith has said he is confident further progress can be made in talks to restore Stormont.

Posting on social media after meeting with the DUP in London on Friday morning, Mr Smith said: "I have had a positive meeting with members of the DUP this morning at Westminster. I am confident that we can move things forward."

Mr Smith's comments come after he said on Thursday evening that a deal was "very close" but that the DUP were not on board.

Asked if the DUP were the party holding up an agreement, Mr Smith said: "That is my understanding, that was confirmed tonight". He indicated he believed that some within the DUP wanted to move forward.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said his party would not sign up to a "quick fix" deal that could fall apart later.

"We asked for the meeting with Julian Smith after his comments, his very unhelpful comments yesterday, and we made it quite clear that of course as a unionist party we wanted the stability of devolution in Northern Ireland not however not an assembly at any cost," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

Proposals to reform the contentious petition of concern voting mechanism have emerged as a key sticking point in efforts to seal a deal. The DUP are also seeking changes to ensure the assembly is more stable going forward, and cannot be pulled down readily.

Mr Wilson said it was strange the UK Government had been unwilling to blame Sinn Fein for its role in the crisis but suddenly Mr Smith was "pointing the finger" at the DUP.

"If he had a rush of blood to the head yesterday hopefully now he is going to go back to being impartial on these issues," he said.

Mr Wilson added: "We wanted to move forward and have as quick an outcome to these talks as possible but we will not be simply accepting any kind of deal just to satisfy his desire to have the assembly up and running."

He said he did not want the process to drag on. He added: "We are not prepared to go for a quick fix which then falls apart at some point in the future."

Sinn Fein President Mary-Lou McDonald said her party was not an obstacle to reaching an agreement.

"We want every party to step up to that ground with us and recognise that at a time of acute political challenges, at a time when clearly in particular our health services are under considerable strain, there is now a duty and obligation for people to lead.

"This is about leadership. This is about creating a deal that recognises people's rights and allows us to get the institutions back up and running."

She said Sinn Fein was not asking anybody to sign a blank cheque.

"There comes a moment when political parties and political leaders have to lead and that is the moment we are at now," she said.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has not functioned for nearly three years after rows between Sinn Fein and the DUP over an Irish Language Act, the RHI scandal, same-sex marriage and legacy issues. 

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