Political news

Brokenshire: Talks between Sinn Féin and DUP have 'intensified and deepened'

Secretary of State James Brokenshire talking to the media at Stormont House earlier this month. Picture by Hugh Russell

TALKS between Sinn Féin and the DUP aimed at saving power-sharing at Stormont have "intensified and deepened", the Secretary of State has said.

James Brokenshire also welcomed what he characterised as "positive statements" from the parties over the weekend and urged them to convert those words into action.

While both the DUP and Sinn Féin issued statements on Sunday stressing their commitment to restoring a devolved executive, there has been no public indication whether either side has given ground on the roadblocks currently preventing it.

Mr Brokenshire has warned that the north is on a "glide path" to a form of direct rule if the impasse since the collapse of the executive at the start of the year is not resolved by the middle of next month.

The Conservative MP gave his assessment on the state of the troubled negotiation process yesterday.

"I firmly believe a deal is doable with the right intent and focus," said Mr Brokenshire.

"We've obviously seen some more positive statements but it is now about converting that into a deal, converting that into the formation of an executive, and I would strongly encourage the parties to continue that intensive process and to bring that about, to make that happen and to see the restoration of devolved government that everyone wants to have and wants to see back in place."

The DUP's refusal to agree to a Sinn Féin demand for free-standing legislation that would enshrine statutory protections for Irish speakers is one of the key obstacles preventing the re-establishment of a government.

While the party is prepared to countenance wider legislation that also incorporates the Ulster Scots culture, it is set against a standalone Irish language act.

DUP leader Arlene Foster reiterated that position in interviews yesterday, but said the parties were working hard to close gaps in the talks because she believes people want to see the return of devolved government.

Formal round-table talks involving the five main Stormont parties and British and Irish governments have still not resumed after they were parked for the summer.

Sinn Féin and the DUP are instead engaged in a series of private meetings - discussions that are due to continue this week.

Mr Brokenshire said there had been a change in pace of that bilateral process.

"That has intensified and deepened and I warmly welcome that," he said.

On Sunday, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said his party is "up for doing a deal" and rejected suggestions that it had given up on Stormont.

In response, DUP MLA Simon Hamilton welcomed as a "step forward" what he described as a "change of tone" from Mr Adams.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it would be a mistake to suggest the parties were on the verge of a breakthrough, but they would continue to try to set up a government.

"We think that is in the best interests of Northern Ireland, we are up for that, we would form the government today," he said.

"If others are showing some more flexibility I welcome that, I hope they do that in substantive terms as well."

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