Hopes fade of securing a deal by next week

Naomi Long said progress between the main parties had been 'incredibly slow'. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Participants in the Stormont talks were last night talking down the prospects of a deal to restore devolution by next week's deadline.

It had been hoped the parties could sign off an agreement by Wednesday at the latest, allowing time for a vote to restore the executive to be passed by the assembly.

However, those representatives who spoke to the media after yesterday's round-table meeting with the two governments were far from optimistic about the potential for securing a deal.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said progress between the main parties had been "incredibly slow".

She said that while there was "some hope" devolution could be restored before the June 29 deadline set by the secretary of state, it would be "wrong to be overly optimistic".

Mrs Long also echoed Sinn Féin claims that the wrangling between the DUP and Tories at Westminster was becoming a "distraction" from attempts to save Stormont.

The Alliance leader insisted her party would not sign-off on any power-sharing agreement without knowing the details of a deal reached between Theresa May's party and the DUP.

Mrs Long said that "the spectre of some deal between the Tory government and the DUP" was starting to become an issue for those taking part in the talks.

"Getting that issue closed down and clarified would be helpful and get the focus back here at Stormont."

She said it would be "foolish" to sign an agreement without knowing the details of a parliamentary pact.

The East Belfast MLA said there was still a lot of work to do to restore the executive but an increasingly short time in which to do it.

"There is very little evidence of any progress in terms of delivery or addressing the key issues – we are against the clock," she said.

"We are not without hope, but it would be wrong to be overly optimistic."

If the parties miss the deadline for agreement at Stormont they face the prospect of direct rule being reimposed from Westminster.

Meanwhile in London, the Conservatives' were continuing to have discussions with the DUP about the mooted 'confidence and supply' deal that would see Arlene Foster's party support Theresa May's minority government.

DUP Westminster chief whip Jeffrey Donaldson said there was contact between the two parties yesterday and that they were "making significant progress".

The Lagan Valley MP said he expected the negotiations to conclude with an announcement "fairly soon".

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has insisted that the financial elements of any Tory-DUP deal must be made public.

Mr McDonnell has written to Chancellor Philip Hammond demanding "transparency" regarding any extra resources made available to Northern Ireland as a result of a deal.

In the letter, the shadow chancellor asks: "Can you clarify whether any additional spending will be funded from general UK-wide taxation, or by increased borrowing, or by some other means?"

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