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Hopes fade of Stormont talks deal happening this week

By Liam Clarke

Hopes of a Stormont talks deal this week have appeared to fade further as negotiations intensify over welfare reform and the legacy from the Troubles.

And the fate of the first North South Ministerial Council meeting in months - due to happen in Armagh tomorrow - hangs in the balance as inter-party meetings went on late yesterday.

Conflicting assessments of a likely conclusion also continued, but there was an apparent consensus that most of the parties are inching towards agreement.

However, Ulster Unionists warned they will need more than a few hours to examine any deal put forward by the DUP and Sinn Fein - and the SDLP's focus is switching to its annual conference this weekend, where leader Alasdair McDonnell is being challenged by MLA Colum Eastwood.

It was also being suggested that Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny will want to sign off on any new deal, which could make the most likely date for a deal early next week.

Other sources, however, argued a final push could get the agreement over the line this side of the weekend.

One source said: "It may drag on a while yet. Cameron may have to sign off and he's in Malta for two days (although) if it's 'good' he may want to be here for his bit of Oirish glory. The Americans are pushing hard, I hear."

Mr Nesbitt said he had told talks co-chair, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, there was no point in further discussions until a paper agreed by the DUP and SF was handed over.

"The idea that you go into a room for two hours of a lockdown and you have to decide is not going to work for us," he said.

"After (the) Stormont House (Agreement) I said we would give it a fair wind in terms of taking it to our ruling executive, but they very wisely and, unfortunately from very bitter experience, said you need to see the implementation.

"If welfare is agreed it is not a question of simply passing a bill at Stormont. There would then be hundreds of regulations which would come through by way of secondary legislation and that could take many, many months.

"The question is, how do you guarantee nobody flip-flops? How do you guarantee nothing happens like (Chancellor) George Osborne deciding to take another whack out of welfare or Tax Credits, which will lead some parties to back out?

"Essentially there are two issues. Can we support the proposals, but also are we confident the political will is there to implement it? The answer to both currently is 'don't know'."

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