Belfast Telegraph

James Brokenshire extends powersharing deadline

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has extended the deadline for the region's two main parties to reach a deal to restore powersharing.

The DUP and Sinn Fein left Stormont shortly before 9pm on Monday having failed to reach an agreement.

They had been warned by Mr Brokenshire that they had until Monday to produce a written agreement or he would be forced to legislate for a budget for the region at Westminster.

However, on Monday night he said that the parties have made progress and he was therefore going to defer his decision to legislate for a budget.

In a statement he said: "The parties have made further progress during the course of today.

"They are making certain additional requests of the UK Government which we need to consider.

"In the light of this, I believe it is right to defer the assessment on whether to introduce legislation to Parliament this week to enable an Executive to be formed.

"The parties will recommence talks in the morning and I will reassess the position tomorrow night."

The Northern Ireland Executive collapsed in January and the region has been without a powersharing government since then.

Despite endless rounds of discussions, a deal to restore devolution has proved elusive with the introduction of an Irish language act seen as the main issue.

Mr Brokenshire and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney were in Belfast on Monday to try and help find a breakthrough to the political deadlock.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald also joined their party's negotiating team at Stormont.

Throughout the day the DUP, Sinn Fein and the Irish and UK Governments stayed tight-lipped about any progress in the negotiations.

The region's smaller parties held a meeting earlier in the day to discuss the lack of openness and transparency in the talks.

Before talks began on Monday morning the DUP called on Mr Brokenshire to set a budget to ensure a "measure of good government" in the region.

The party said it would not accept "a bad agreement cobbled together to suddenly suit the timetables of others".

"Our position has not changed, we want to see an executive set up - we would have done it March and sorted these issues in tandem," said the party in a statement.

"Given Sinn Fein have dragged their feet over the last 10 months the secretary of state should bring forward a budget to bring a measure of good government to Northern Ireland," the statement added.

The DUP said it will continue the discussions as it believes "devolution is best for Northern Ireland".

But it warned that it would not be a part of a "bad agreement cobbled together to suddenly suit the timetables of others".

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said while a deal can still be done it "needs to be a deal for all in our society and not just for the political leaderships of unionism".

"If the political institutions are to be sustainable then they must be restored on the basis of equality, rights and respect.

"That requires an end to the DUP's denial of rights citizens enjoy everywhere else on these islands, language rights, marriage rights and the right to a coroner's court," Mr Murphy added.

Prime Minister Theresa May's official spokesman said the government was still working with the parties on reaching an agreement.

"We have had progress but there are still significant gaps which remain and we continue to work with them to overcome these.

"You can expect James Brokenshire to update Parliament later this week on how that is progressing.

"We continue to work with the parties on trying to overcome the differences between them and to restore devolved government, which is in the interests of all communities in Northern Ireland," the spokesman said.

He added: "We are clear we don't want to see a return to direct rule, we want a return of devolved government in Northern Ireland, so that local decisions can be made by local politicians.

"James Brokenshire has been clear that the latest we can practically introduce legislation to enable the executive's formation would be this week in order for it to be in time for a new executive to set a budget."

Earlier SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that if a deal is not reached by Monday's deadline, his party will not accept direct rule from Westminster but only joint rule from both London and Dublin.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has called on Mr Brokenshire to reduce MLAs' pay by 30% if no progress is made.

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