Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin warns that time for Stormont deal is running out

Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy said the British government was distracted

SINN Féin has claimed the British government's prolonged wrangling with the DUP is distracting it from the Stormont talks process.

The party's negotiator Conor Murphy last night warned that "time was running out" in the latest bid to restore devolution.

The Newry and Armagh MLA was speaking after all-party negotiations continued in Belfast and discussions between the DUP and the Conservatives took place in London.

The deal that would see Arlene Foster's party bolster Theresa May's minority government has yet to be finalised, nearly two weeks after negotiations first began in the wake of the June 8 Westminster election.

The DUP was yesterday taking credit for plans for Mrs May's government to extend the military covenant to the north.

Introduced in Britain in 2000, the military covenant is a British government pledge to look after former members of the armed forces and their families.

Speaking in Belfast, former Stormont minister Simon Hamilton said: "We make no apology and are unashamedly in support of wanting to see the military covenant rolled out and delivering for service personnel right across the United Kingdom".

He said his party and Mrs May's government had been engaging well "over the last 24 hours".

"We will continue until we can get something that works for the people of Northern Ireland, delivers on what we need for Northern Ireland and also importantly delivers stability for the whole nation at this time of great challenge," he said.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had earlier said the chances of reaching a deal with the Tories were "very good".

But at Westminster, cabinet minister David Gauke made a joke at the expense of the DUP when he touched on concern among some Tories about becoming linked to the party because of its attitude to LGBT rights.

Referring to when he took over the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Mr Gauke said: "I thought I would do a little research into what people were saying about DWP, and I had a look and googled it, and I was a little surprised by what I saw - hugely expensive, difficult customers, very socially conservative, I realised that actually that was the DUP.

"DWP? DUP? They are not quite homophones."

However, the work and pensions secretary added: "As far as I am concerned, it is important that we obtain some stability within our system."

But while the chances of agreement between the Tories and the DUP are being talked up, the same optimism does not extend to a Stormont deal.

Mr Murphy said the two governments had brought forward the deadline for agreement to next Tuesday.

He also claimed the British government was too focused on its negotiations with the DUP.

"The British government is content to go through the motions at Stormont but their main focus is elsewhere," he said.

"Given the lack of progress in the Stormont talks and the lack of knowledge about the impact of any Tory-DUP deal on our public services, on agreements and on the political institutions, Sinn Féin is concerned that time is running out."

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