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Stormont stalemate giving Westminster little choice but to intervene, says DUP's Arlene Foster

By Suzanne Breeen

DUP leader Arlene Foster has warned that greater intervention from London may be inevitable as the Secretary of State sets a budget for Northern Ireland at Westminster today.

Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph that James Brokenshire was right to step in to ensure "good governance". He is taking action before public services here run out of money.

"If there continues to be a refusal to restore devolution, then there will be greater intervention from London," Mrs Foster said.

The DUP has called for direct rule ministers to be appointed "within a few short weeks" if a deal can't be reached to restore power-sharing.

The party leader said the public wanted devolution restored, but "not at any price".

On the prospects of a deal, she said there were still "significant differences" to overcome but she believed her party and Sinn Fein could "work together to make an agreement that is good for unionism and for nationalism".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar claimed a deal could be reached in early 2018. "The gap between the parties in terms of substance is not huge. It is really a matter now of political willingness and trust and it is possible to come to an agreement, if not in the next few weeks then perhaps early in the new year," he said.

Mr Varadkar met Mrs Foster and Mr Brokenshire over the weekend and will hold discussions with Sinn Fein this week.

Sinn Fein Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill yesterday said the British Government's priority was to sustain its political pact with the DUP.

"Theresa May and her party have acquiesced in their own self-interests to the DUP blocking the equality agenda and denying rights which are the norm in all other parts of our islands," she said.

If the DUP wanted to exercise political power in Stormont, "then the cost is to embrace a rights-based society and equal partnership government which works for everyone," she added. Mrs O'Neill insisted the DUP had to move on an Irish Language Act, a Bill of Rights, equal marriage, and the right to coroners' inquests. "The unionist state is gone. Citizens do not want majorities or minorities - they want equality," she added.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused Sinn Fein and the DUP of abandoning their voters to "British direct rule".

Passing a Northern Ireland budget at Westminster was "a dark day, particularly for those who worked hard to see power in the hands of Irish people," he said.

He said it was the budget Sinn Fein Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir had failed to set when he was in office, "the budget that will leave the North frozen in failure with no ambition and no creative thinking on how we take our society forward".

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said a budget set at Westminster was a "sad but inevitable consequence" of political dysfunction.

"Even at the 11th hour we can arrest this slippery slope towards full direct rule. There are interventions around an external mediator, a different format for the talks, and reform to structures and mechanisms that can better incentivise progress," he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams told The Sunday Times it was "very unlikely" an Executive would be formed by Christmas.

He revealed that the night before Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister he had received tiring and invasive hospital treatment.

Mr Adams said he'd advised his colleague to resign from Derry, but Mr McGuinness had insisted on travelling to Stormont to meet Mrs Foster face-to-face.

He also revealed that the nature of Mr McGuinness's religious faith had changed in recent years.

"Like many of us who came from a Catholic background, he may have moved a bit away from the rituals of all that. That isn't to say he didn't go to Mass. He did regularly, but I think he'd have described himself as spiritual in recent years," Mr Adams added.

Belfast Telegraph

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