James Brokenshire insists Tory/DUP pact will not affect power-sharing talks
JAMES Brokenshire has insisted that discussions between the DUP and Conservatives at Westminster will not affect power-sharing talks.
Sinn Féin and the SDLP have said the Secretary of State should not chair the Stormont negotiations because the British government is no longer neutral given Theresa May's plans to form a minority government with the DUP's help.
Mr Brokenshire told a press conference yesterday his government understood its responsibility as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.
"As a government we are was very clear of our responsibilities under the Belfast Agreement to act fairly for the benefit of all communities," he said.
"And it is that message that I will be underlining today, in terms of yes the discussions that may be taking place between ourselves and the DUP in relation to an agreement at Westminster, but that being entirely separate from our intent and desire to see devolution being restored here at the earliest possible opportunity."
The Tory MP, who was re-appointed Secretary of State on Sunday, said the parties had made progress before the snap general election was called.
"We want to see that taking further steps," he said.
"We want to see that moving forward quickly such that we can see devolution really happening here.
"I believe that a deal is possible within the time period that we have through to the 29th of June with goodwill, with that sense of intent."
DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday told Sinn Féin that if it is concerned about her party's influence at Westminster, it should move to restore devolution at Stormont.
Mrs Foster delivered the blunt message as she rejected Sinn Féin's claim that the DUP/Tory deal at Westminster would undermine the political process in the north.
"If others decide that they are not coming back into the devolved administration here in Northern Ireland then those issues will have to be dealt with at Westminster," she said.
"It is really for Sinn Féin to decide where they want those powers to lie."
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds also questioned if Sinn Féin would rule itself out of any coalition in the Republic.
"I think the people of the Irish Republic would be very, very interested, as would other members of other political parties, to know before they fight the next general election in the Irish Republic whether or not Sinn Féin are going to rule themselves out of government on the basis that is a breach of the Good Friday Agreement? Because if that's what they say about us, then it applies to them equally," he said.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said: "Our resolve is to see these institutions put in place on the basis they were founded upon as quickly as possible.
"That could be done this time tomorrow morning or dinner time today.
"They are all rights issues subject to previous agreements.
"We made clear at the beginning of these talks that James Brokenshire is not an acceptable chair."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also warned that the north's future could not be left "in the hands of a Tory-DUP government."
"If James Brokenshire thinks for one second he can be an independent chair of these talks he is absolutely wrong," he said.
However, Mr Brokenshire appeared to rule out a change yesterday, saying the current process - which involves the UK and Irish governments chairing elements of the negotiations and the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service moderating other discussions - is the "right approach".
The parties have three weeks to restore devolution after the Secretary of State warned the latest deadline for agreement - June 29 - is "final and immovable".
The Republic's foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan also said it was important that the deadline is met.
"While the landscape has dramatically changed over the weekend the issues are exactly the same," he said.
"We want to ensure that every opportunity is given to the parties here to have the power-sharing institutions restored."