Belfast Telegraph

With talks just days away, DUP MP pessimistic deal can be done

By Suzanne Breen political editor

DUP MP Gregory Campbell has said the chances of his party reaching a deal with Sinn Fein when next week's talks process begins "aren't great".

Mr Campbell said an Irish Language Act remained the major stumbling block to an agreement to restore power-sharing.

While the DUP would discuss "minority languages provision", an Irish Language Act was "out of the question", he added.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said she was "realistic, not optimistic" about a deal.

The SDLP and the UUP called for details of progress made by the DUP and Sinn Fein in previous negotiations to be released so that work could be built upon.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has called a fresh round of talks to begin on Wednesday.

But Mr Campbell last night told the Belfast Telegraph: "The chances of a deal aren't great.

"Sinn Fein has dropped its preconditions about entering talks and if that realism is reflected in negotiations next week, then the chances of an agreement will improve but, at the moment, they aren't high."

The East Londonderry MP said his party remained opposed to an Irish Language Act.

"Whatever about the preconditions and red lines from Sinn Fein, the facts are that of all the minority languages in Northern Ireland, the Irish language is more adequately resourced and better catered for than any other," he said. "Sinn Fein's attempt to elevate the Irish language even further through an Act is something the DUP hasn't and won't agree to.

"But if they want to talk about minority languages provision, we are open and amenable to that."

Mrs Long said an Irish Language Act and equal marriage had become hugely symbolic issues.

"The demand for an Irish Language Act is representative of the demand of wider nationalism that Irishness in Northern Ireland is respected and given its place in the institutions. The demand for equal marriage reflects the desire of people who are different to be treated with respect and fairness," she said.

She has contacted Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill "to say the Alliance Party will do everything possible to enhance the chances of a deal being reached".

But Mrs Long added: "Any deal must involve clarity on what has been agreed and on the timetables for delivery because there is zero trust right now and previous constructive ambiguity hasn't worked."

She repeated her party's call for an independent chair to be appointed.

"The Secretary of State hasn't ruled it out, but she said she wanted to give the talks an initial push herself," she said.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann welcomed the fact that next week's talks would be inclusive. "Having all five parties involved and not just two is a good starting place," he commented.

"I hope no party comes to the table with red lines. Red lines have brought only stalemate and stalling." He said the positions of the DUP and Sinn Fein in the last talks should be made public "so we know where they actually got to".

UUP MLA Steve Aiken said: "The ball is clearly in Sinn Fein's court as to whether we get the Executive back up and running.

"As to what happens if there is no deal, anything is possible, from an election to the suspension of devolution."

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said: "We're told the Irish Language Act is a red line for both the DUP and Sinn Fein but we know from the Governments and the two parties themselves that there was some compromise on the issue and the gap narrowed in the last talks.

"If progress is to be made now, we need to be told where they got to then so we can build on that and not repeat the mistakes of the past. It's cards on the table time."

The negotiations will kick off with Mrs Bradley and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney holding bilateral meetings with the parties on Wednesday.

Belfast Telegraph

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