Taoiseach Enda Kenny optimistic of deal 'by weekend'
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny says he is still hopeful of a breakthrough in the stalled talks process being achieved "by the weekend".
Mr Kenny met his counterpart David Cameron for talks in London on Monday in a bid to save Northern Ireland's powersharing administration as negotiations enter their final phase. He then travelled to Belfast to meet with the parties and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.
Both leaders discussed the state of the political process in Belfast for around 45 minutes at Downing Street.
Afterwards, the Taoiseach expressed hope of a successful conclusion by the weekend.
"These discussions have been going on for quite some time," he said.
"They have been discussing various points over the last number of weeks and I would be hopeful that, having had briefings from the minister for foreign affairs (the Dublin government's representative in the talks, Charlie Flanagan) in respect of these discussions, that they might be able to be concluded this week.
"I am going to travel from here to Belfast to meet with First and Deputy First Minister Robinson and McGuinness and in respect of the document that has been the subject of discussions, I would hope that that might be concluded by the weekend, though obviously we will have to wait and see what the actual outcome will be."
Mr Kenny's visit to London came ahead of planned meetings this evening with DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in Belfast.
Mr Cameron held similar discussions with Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness at Downing Street on Friday.
The fate of the crisis talks at Stormont remains in the balance, but there is widespread expectation that nine weeks of exchanges will end, with or without resolution, in the coming days.
Powersharing has lurched from one crisis to another in recent times, the latest sparked by a murder linked to the supposedly defunct Provisional IRA.
The fallout from the shooting of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan and a range of other disputes creating instability are on the agenda in negotiations at Stormont House involving the five main Assembly parties and the British and Irish governments.
Amid mounting speculation that a deal could be struck, at least between the two main parties - Sinn Fein and the DUP - Mr Kenny and Mr Cameron have urged local politicians to reach a consensus.
Aside from the McGuigan murder, a budget wrangle has left the Stormont administration facing an unsustainable black hole of hundreds of millions of pounds.
A resolution to the long-standing impasse over the Executive's failure to implement the Government's welfare reforms will be crucial to any breakthrough.
It is understood Stormont's leaders want the British and Irish governments to commit extra funding to Northern Ireland as part of any settlement.
For the Dublin government, such investment would be in the form of cross-border projects, like the stalled A5 dual carriageway construction linking Dublin with the north west.
Mr Kenny was asked if he had made any additional financial pledges to help get the deal over the line.
"Obviously over the next number of years in the normal course of events, the issue of supporting cross-border activities is part and parcel of what we have done. That continues," he said.
"Clearly some of the issues that have been raised by the parties in Northern Ireland concern major pieces of infrastructure.
"Yes we did commit monies in respect of the A5, some of that has been allocated, and we continue to honour the commitment we put forward there."
He said he would discuss "other matters" with Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness.
The wider negotiations at Stormont House are also trying to find a way forward on how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
In the wake of the murder of Mr McGuigan in Belfast's Short Strand, the talks are also trying to find an agreed approach to eradicating on-going paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.
In Assembly question time on Monday, Mr McGuinness said reaching an overall deal would send a strong message to the men of violence.
"I do think making politics work, I do think coming to agreements like the agreement we are trying to forge at the moment can send a very powerful message to those in society who believe violence represents the best way forward - that's the road to no town," he said.
"What represents the best way forward for us are: working institutions, people being prepared to work on reconciliation processes and people working to ensure we provide foreign direct investment, support for our own local indigenous businesses.
"And we do know if we can get our act together in relation to all of that our young people can have a bright future and not be rich pickings for those who would try to criminalise them and drag them into activities that would see them end up in prison."