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Deal or part deal at Stormont almost there

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams speaks o Theresa Villiers at Stormont yesterday as the talks move towards a conclusion. Picture by Justin Kernoghan

THE Stormont negotiations are finally expected to conclude today or tomorrow but it looks unlikely the agreement will be as comprehensive as first hoped.

Sinn Féin and SDLP objections to the British government's attempted veto on the disclosure of official documents may yet scupper the legacy element of any deal.

The proposed Westminster legislation on truth recovery allows exceptions to the release of information on "national security" grounds.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness yesterday said agreement on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles remained the big sticking point in the process, which is now in its tenth week.

He said the talks had entered a "critical" stage and that they could not "go beyond Wednesday".

"I think I fully expect that there will be an agreement, hopefully a comprehensive agreement, before the middle of this week," he told reporters at Stormont.

However, the Sinn Féin MLA said there remained "difficulty" over legacy issues.

"The British government are trying to hide behind this label of national security and I think we need to see a resolution of that and I believe the discussions over the course of this day will probably concentrate on that more than anything else," he said.

"In other matters great progress has been made between ourselves and the DUP."

Mr McGuinness said he would be "disappointed" if consensus on legacy could not be reached, but added if that was not possible, there was a responsibility on politicians to press ahead with other aspects of the agreement.

SDLP negotiator Alex Attwood called on the British government to share its latest legacy bill with the parties.

"Only then can the parties judge how it will and will not measure up to the needs of victims and survivors," he said.

He said Mrs Villiers needed to put other proposals – "on finance, welfare, paramilitarism and criminality" – on the table too.

"Then we can make a call on whether or not the proposals are on the right side of all the issues."

Mrs Villiers warned the parties that it was "make your mind up time".

"We are into week 10, we have had plenty of time to discuss the issues," she said.

"I really do think it is make your mind up time, and we need to get this sorted very soon – over the course of this week."

She said that while "significant" blockages still existed there had been "genuine progress" on financial matters.

"We continue to discuss all the legacy matters including this question around onward disclosure by the HIU (Historical Investigations Unit)," she said.

"It is very difficult – that continues to be a significant sticking point."

Mr Robinson said he would also be disappointed if a comprehensive agreement was not struck.

"I am still optimistic and hopefully within the next few days we will be able to make sufficient progress to be able to make an announcement," he said.

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