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Push for a last-minute deal to end talks crisis

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Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald

Crisis talks to secure a last-minute deal on policing and justice will continue today with the clock ticking towards Sinn Fein’s ard chomhairle meeting tomorrow.

The ruling executive of the party is to meet in Dublin with still no sign of an agreement with the DUP despite more than a week of intense talking.

Yesterday, after a private briefing from Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein vice-president Mary Lou McDonald said the DUP had not gone far enough as she announced the ard chomhairle.

However, the DUP has hit back by stating that there should be Government intervention to break the deadlock in talks between the two parties.

It is understood that talks have stalled on the issue of parades with republicans refusing to agree to the abolition of the Parades Commission in return for DUP agreement on a date for policing and justice devolution.

One republican source told this paper: “They aren’t getting the Parades Commission’s head on the plate. It’s an Orange Order demand.”

Standing in the rain on the steps of Connolly House in west Belfast yesterday, Mary Lou McDonald told the gathered media: “I have to say that, at this time, there’s not yet an indication from the DUP that they are ready to step up to the plate and meet their commitments.”

She added: “The St Andrews Agreement is now three years old, the process that we are involved in is really one of completion and not renegotiation. We want this to work, there’s now an obligation on all of us and in particular the DUP to meet their commitments and to make this work.”

She denied that her party was setting a deadline but confirmed that its ruling executive will meet in Dublin to weigh progress in the negotiations.

But acting DUP First Minister Arlene Foster described the Sinn Fein remarks as “deeply frustrating”.

She said: “The DUP's negotiating team has been available for discussions and stands ready to discuss the outstanding issues. Unfortunately, our team has been sitting alone at Stormont today.

“The people of Northern Ireland want to see a resolution to issues rather than party political posturing. For agreement to be reached, it is necessary for the parties to have meaningful engagement and not wait for others to move to their position.

“We hope that Sinn Fein will not allow their new position on parading to stand in the way of making progress on the outstanding issues.”

Mrs Foster added: “The DUP is committed to a successful outcome to these negotiations. We are up for a deal when the conditions are right.”

PA