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Adams warns that Monday's talks deadline can't be extended

Gerry Adams has said Sinn Féin will not accept an extension of Monday's talks deadline. Picture by Mal McCann

Gerry Adams has warned that Sinn Féin will not accept an extension of Monday's deadline for securing agreement on the restoration of devolution but has suggested that a resolution to the latest political impasse is possible.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said the negotiations would be suspended today to accommodate Martin McGuinness's funeral this afternoon but are expected to resume tomorrow. However, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood warned that time was "running short" with no plans so far to continue talking over the weekend.

Legislation dictates that the assembly must nominate a first and deputy first minister on Monday afternoon, as well as appointing a new speaker. If MLAs are unable to do so, then the secretary of state must call another election within a "reasonable time".

While the talks that began nearly three weeks ago have yet to feature any public disagreements between the participants, the process has lacked dynamism, with the first all-party plenary only taking place this week.

Updates on progress from the Northern Ireland Office and media appearances by Secretary of State James Brokenshire have also petered out after an initial flurry of activity in the first week.

Speaking last night in Newry, Mr Adams said he and others spent yesterday at Stormont trying to find a resolution to the outstanding issues.

He said Sinn Féin believed the negotiations were about "an implementation process" and that a "continuous negotiation and re-negotiation of agreements already made" was not acceptable.

The Louth TD said his party was opposed to any extension of Monday's deadline and a return to direct rule.

He said the British government's power to suspend the assembly had lapsed and that any effort to reintroduce similar measures would be a "very serious step" that should be opposed by the Dublin government.

"The Irish government is the co-equal guarantor of the Good Friday (Agreement) and subsequent agreements – the taoiseach needs to make it clear by deed as well as word that the government will implement in full its obligations and hold the British government to account for its obligations, internationally if need be," Mr Adams said.

The Sinn Féin leader said that after Mr McGuinness's funeral, efforts to restore the executive and the assembly would continue.

Mr Eastwood urged all those involved in the talks to "reflect on the generosity of spirit displayed by Martin McGuinness".

"We should embrace the opportunity to build a different future where unionism does not try to dominate nationalism or nationalism doesn't try to dominate unionism and where, together, we can build a society that all of us can be proud of – that is the job that we have now," the SDLP leader said.

"Beyond today and tomorrow, we have the opportunity to come together, to work together and to compromise in the interests of the people we represent."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said a deal was possible but that she wasn't optimistic that agreement could be secured by Monday.

"I think we're still at the preliminary stage and there are options available but whether or not people are willing to sign up is another matter entirely," she said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May has postponed a planned visit to Northern Ireland. She had been scheduled to visit today as part of her Brexit 'tour of the regions.'

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