Assembly Election

SDLP leader: Talks to restore power-sharing at Stormont shelved

Sinn Féin's northern leader Michelle O'Neill, with party colleagues, as she addresses the media at Stormont Castle in Belfast, yesterday
Deborah McAleese

THE first round-table talks between political parties at Stormont in a bid to restore power-sharing were cancelled at the last minute, the SDLP has claimed.

Party leader Colm Eastwood said it was "unfortunate" that a meeting between all the parties and the British and Irish governments due to take place yesterday was shelved.

"There should have been somebody here to chair all of this," he said, meaning an independent chairman.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan have been holding meetings with parties to try to resolve the political crisis.

Parties have until March 27 to restore power-sharing or Northern Ireland could face another snap election.

Despite the looming deadline it is understood there still has not been a full meeting of all the parties.

Minutes before Mr Eastwood's comments, DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed no round-table meeting had been planned yesterday.

"There may be a round-table for officials happening but in terms of the political people, we continue to have bilateral meetings and in some cases trilateral," she said.

Mrs Foster said she was "very mindful" that the deadline for agreement "is tight".

"It is important that we continue in the spirit that we started these talks, with the focus on the restoration of devolution.

"We need the stability back for economic development, to have a budget. We need to step up to the mark to bring about devolution."

One of the most contentious issues is how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

Sinn Féin has insisted it will not accept immunity for soldiers involved in killings during the Troubles.

Michelle O'Neill, the party's leader in the region, said: "We are not interested in immunity or impunity for anyone. That has been part of the problem here. We need to move forward and deal with the issues.

"We will not accept any immunity for British soldiers. Everyone has to be equal in the eyes of the law."

"The legacy issue is something we need to see dealt with. We are having ongoing discussions in relation to that but very clearly what we need to see is movement."

Mrs Foster said the DUP wants to see a solution to the legacy issue for everyone.

"Legacy continues to form an important part of our discussions," she said.

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