Northern Ireland news

Talks to continue as plans to move budget loom

Conor Murphy said if Westminster began legislating for a budget then it would signal the end of the current phase of negotiations. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

TALKS between the DUP and Sinn Féin aimed at restoring devolution are to continue again today as a date was earmarked for Westminster to begin moving a Northern Ireland budget.

If Stormont's ten-month deadlock remains unbroken, Secretary of State James Brokenshire is expected to present the regional spending plan to MPs in the week beginning November 13.

But Sinn Féin negotiator Conor Murphy yesterday warned that if Mr Brokenshire decides to legislate for a budget then "this phase of the talks process is over".

The secretary of state was due to review the situation last night and will today update MPs on the current state of the talks, which were expected to conclude on Monday.

The discussions broke up yesterday evening with no sign of a breakthrough. They will resume again this morning.

Earlier yesterday, while reports of the parties making requests to the British government about additional funding fuelled speculation that agreement may be close, there was little in Mr Murphy's tone to suggest Sinn Féin was in the mood to compromise.

"The talks are continuing and we are still in there trying to get the DUP to accept the rights enjoyed by citizens everywhere else on these islands," the Newry and Armagh MLA said.

"I'm not going to make any comment on those discussions because it would not be helpful at this stage."

However, Mr Murphy used yesterday's press conference to criticise the SDLP, who he said were "continually attacking Sinn Féin".

He claimed the SDLP were demanding a "deal at any price".

"For our part in Sinn Féin we are here engaged, not on party political interests but actually on issues that are rights for people who support us and for many, many people who don't support us," he said.

"We are here to protect people's rights and ensure that any legislation which is put back in place is done so on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement."

He said Sinn Féin was committed to securing rights for all of society and "not just for one section of citizens".

But SDLP South Down MLA Sinead Bradley said Mr Murphy was attacking her party for "demanding some form of transparency".

"The truth of the matter is that we are on the brink of direct rule from a Tory government with the DUP holding the whip hand – the rights of every citizen are about to fall under the control of that coalition of chaos," she said.

"That is a compromise that the SDLP would not make – it is a compromise that no Irish nationalist should make."

It is understood Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney will remain closely involved in the process until it concludes.

Mr Coveney tweeted yesterday morning that the deadline had been extended after "progress" on Monday and that "everyone (is) working hard to get a deal across the line".

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann warned the British government not to facilitate any "side deals".

"We have seen in the past how under the table deals have facilitated despicable arrangements such as the OTR (on the run) letters to satisfy Sinn Féin demands," he said.

"This process must not be allowed to facilitate further distortions of the legal process or to provide comfort to former terrorists nor should it be used to cement a hierarchy of victims where the focus remains on the state, army, police and intelligence services instead of the terrorists and their apologists."

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