Political news

'Mountain to climb' in Stormont talks

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill said the parties "still have a mountain to climb" to restore power-sharing. Picture by Hugh Russell

SINN Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill has said there is "still a mountain to climb" to restore power-sharing government but "I believe a deal can be done".

Make-or-break talks involving some of the main political parties and Secretary of State James Brokenshire took place at Stormont yesterday.

Power-sharing has been on hold since early this year when the late Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned amid criticism of the DUP's handling of the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

It has been seven months since Stormont ministers took decisions, and negotiations to restore devolution were paused over the summer.

While there has been no resumption of formal talks between the parties, Sinn Féin and the DUP last week revealed they had been engaged in discussions.

The parties were continuing to speak to one another yesterday while further discussions took place between Mr Brokenshire and the SDLP, UUP and Alliance Party.

Ms O'Neill said her party will take part in other meetings this week but "what we need to see is more than nice words".

She said the Stormont executive's policies must be "based on equality and respect and an end to the denial of rights, such as language rights, marriage rights and the right to a coroner's inquest".

"We still have a mountain to climb but I believe a deal can be done," she said.

"There is a small window to get the job done and it will require a concerted effort by all the parties and the two governments."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he welcomed "positive mood music" from the two main parties but added there was no indication of big moves from either side in the stalemate.

If there was no substantive progress this week, then both the British and Irish governments needed to step in, he said.

"They should then publicly challenge all the parties to sign up to it or reject it," he said.

"This intervention by the co-guarantors of our political agreements would also bring focus to the real priority of finally getting a government formed which can begin to tackle hospital waiting lists, school budget cuts and the growing numbers of families without a home."

The last thing the north needed, he added, was "a Tory government propped up by the DUP running this place".

"We need to get moving quickly," he said.

The NIO has previously confirmed there would be "further intensive dialogue" between the DUP and Sinn Féin this week.

"The UK government and the Irish government will continue to engage with all parties," a spokesman said.

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