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DUP ridicules Sinn Féin call for Theresa May and Leo Varadkar to intervene in Stormont talks

DUP's Edwin Poots (right) and Christopher Stalford speaking to the media at Stormont Castle, Belfast. Picture by David Young, PA Wire
David Young, Press Association

The Democratic Unionists have ridiculed a Sinn Féin call for the British prime minister and Taoiseach to intervene in Stormont's crisis talks, insisting the republicans "don't need anyone to hold their hands".

DUP negotiator Edwin Poots was responding to the party's demand that Theresa May and Leo Varadkar engage as a "matter of urgency" to inject the "step change" needed to secure an agreement.

No 10 said Mrs May had been in touch with the parties during the process but Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire was the British government's representative in the talks.

After further negotiations at Stormont Castle on Friday - the day after Thursday's deadline for agreement came and went - Mr Poots said: "I think Sinn Fein can do the business very quickly, they know what's required of them - they don't need anybody to hold their hands.

"They just need to sit upstairs, make the decisions that need to be made and come and tell us of those decisions so we can get on with the business."

Accusing the DUP of refusing to budge on central issues, Sinn Féin negotiator John O'Dowd earlier urged the two governments to press the main unionist party to give ground.

Mr O'Dowd claimed the DUP had become "emboldened" by its parliamentary deal with the Conservative Party at Westminster and had entrenched its stance at Stormont as a result.

"After weeks of negotiations the DUP have still not agreed to the rights-based society that we require," he said.

Mr O'Dowd said the main sticking points were related to his party's demands for an Irish Language Act, a Northern Ireland specific Bill of Rights and legalisation of same sex-marriage in the region.

"The DUP's relationship with the Tory government has emboldened them, it has entrenched their positions in regards all those measures that need to be resolved," he said.

He added: "The British government need to remove their partisan approach and set aside their relationship with the DUP if these talks are to succeed."

Mr O'Dowd suggested any progress that had been made had been "snail" like.

He said: "We will stay here as long as there is a glimmer of hope that there will be success in these talks, but we are realists and we are experienced negotiators and we know there needs to be a step change in these talks - hence the reason we are calling on the Taoiseach and the British prime minister to become directly involved.

Mr Poots said his party wanted Sinn Féin to compromise on issues including the Military Covenant and "confidence building" proposals to reform the workings of the Stormont institutions.

"Whilst we understand that Irish language is hugely important to Sinn Fein - health, education, jobs, the economy, infrastructure, the environment, agriculture - all of these issues are hugely important to us, hugely important to the public," he said.

He told Sinn Féin to "get moving so we can get government back in place".

In response to the Sinn Féin call, a No 10 statement said: "James Brokenshire is on the ground in Belfast and will be continuing to engage intensively with the parties - today and over the weekend. The prime minister has met with all five parties and will continue to have close engagement with the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Taoiseach, who she spoke with earlier this weekend."

The UK Government has extended the talks process until Monday, despite Stormont parties missing Thursday's statutory deadline.

Discussions are set to continue over the weekend.

Mr Brokenshire will make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday outlining the government's intentions going forward.

In the absence of agreement, the options open to Mr Brokenshire include setting another deadline for the talks process, calling a second snap Assembly election or re-imposing some form of direct rule from London.

If a deal was to materialise over the weekend, the government could pass legislation to retrospectively change Thursday's missed deadline to enable a new executive to be formed without recourse to another election.

The institutions imploded in January when DUP leader Arlene Foster was forced from office after Sinn Fein's then deputy first minister, the late Martin McGuinness, quit.

That was in protest at the DUP's handling of the renewable heat incentive (RHI), a scheme that left the administration facing a £490 million overspend.

His move triggered a snap Assembly election in March.

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