Parties given more time as James Brokenshire claims a deal 'remains achievable'

Secretary of State James Brokenshire addressing the House of Commons

A STORMONT deal "remains achievable" the Secretary of State has claimed, despite no sign of a break-through yesterday.

James Brokenshire gave the parties more time to reach agreement after they missed a crucial deadline on Thursday, even though the DUP and Sinn Féin remain at odds on key issues including an Irish language act.

Speaking to the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Brokenshire did not order a new election or impose direct rule but warned: "This hiatus cannot continue for much longer".

He said the continued stalemate will impact on public services, adding that if no agreement is reached, legislation will be passed to give civil servants greater authority over Stormont budgets.

"We have not quite reached that point," he said.

"That point is coming and the lack of a formal budget is not something that can be sustained indefinitely."

He added that a consultation on legacy issues and devolved powers over corporation tax cannot be progressed until power-sharing is restored.

The DUP and Sinn Féin continued to blame each other over the impasse yesterday.

Sinn Féin's leader in the north, Michelle O'Neill, branded Mr Brokenshire's comments " most unhelpful" and hit out at the DUP for its "refusal to deliver on basic rights and equality issues" including same-sex marriage and measures to deal with Troubles inquests.

"The DUP continue to block rights which are routinely available everywhere else on these islands," she said.

She added: "That is unacceptable".

"That is why we do not have sustainable institutions," she said.

"That is why we do not have an agreement.

"If as the DUP claim this is a shopping list then it is a shopping list I am proud of."

She was speaking after DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed Sinn Féin was more concerned with adding to its "shopping list" of demands rather than seeking compromises.

Mrs Foster said her party wanted devolution to be restored but would not agree a deal that would leave the unionist community feeling "short-changed".

"Sinn Fein have a shopping list, a shopping list that seems to get longer every time we meet with them," she said.

"That is very disappointing for all of the people of Northern Ireland who make it very clear to us that they want to see devolution back up and running again on a fair and proportionate basis."

She added: "The onus is really on Sinn Fein now. Whether they want to continue with this political grandstanding or whether they want to get back to the job of work that we need to do.

"I think it's long past the time when we should be back in government."

Earlier, Sinn Féin negotiator Conor Murphy again accused the DUP of refusing to budge.

"Now we find ourselves up against the Twelfth of July where the atmosphere becomes so hostile that the DUP are even less likely to move on some of these issues," he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood criticised Mr Brokenshire's "vague" statement yesterday, saying it pointed to direct rule.

"That will mean the north is at the mercy of a DUP/Tory coalition who haven't the slightest interest in either equality or fairness," he said.

He blamed the DUP and Sinn Féin for putting their "selfish needs" before the public interest.

"It is clear from recent days that the two big parties have come to the conclusion that an autumn deal suits their needs better," he said.

UUP leader Robin Swann claimed Mr Brokenshire's statement "hasn't supplied any further clarity to this process".

"The process was initially set up to restore credibility and trust in Northern Ireland politics and Northern Ireland politicians and, to date, it is failing to do so."

Meanwhile, Shadow Secretary of State Owen Smith urged Prime Minister Theresa May to get more involved in the process and suggested she could fly over for the talks.

He said he was surprised "that this Prime Minister continues to seem reluctant to take personal responsibility to break the deadlock" given that her decision to call a general election brought the power-sharing talks closer to the Twelfth demonstrations.

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