Political news

Huge differences remain to be resolved at Stormont crisis talks, DUP warns

(left to right) DUP MLAs Paul Givan, Simon Hamilton and Edwin Poots speaking to the media at Parliament Buildings. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
Deborah McAleese and Michael McHugh, Press Association

THE DUP has said "huge differences" still remain to be resolved before power-sharing at Stormont can be restored.

The five main political parties met for the first of a series of round-table crisis talks yesterday afternoon in a bid to find a way to end the year-long political stalemate.

However, the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance complained the talks were still not inclusive.

Following the meeting, which lasted little over an hour, the DUP's Simon Hamilton said: "We have huge differences between the parties on a range of key issues and we have been working through those issues.

"We have made some progress on many but there are some big and, in some cases, quite significant gaps."

He added: "We want to get this assembly back up and running again. We want to do that on the basis of accommodation that is fair, one that allows a sustainable Stormont to be restored."

Sinn Féin senior negotiator Conor Murphy said: "This process will come to an end in the next short while and we will make a judgement then as to whether a deal is possible or not."

The Newry and Armagh MLA added: "We entered in to what we were told and agreed was a short and sharp process to see was an agreement possible.

"We were told this is the last chance and we accept that the talks cannot go on forever."

The UK Government agreed that difficult issues remain to be resolved but insisted that "progress has been made" and an agreement is "achievable".

In a statement, a spokesman said Secretary of State Karen Bradley will update Parliament tomorrow.

"Good progress has been made in discussions during this latest phase of talks but some difficult issues remain," he said.

"Our assessment is that an agreement in the coming days, while not certain, is achievable.

"Time remains short. We all need to focus our collective efforts in the coming days on working together to form an Executive."

A spokesman for the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs said a power-sharing Executive is "at the institutional heart of the Good Friday Agreement".

"We share the UK Government's assessment that there is a shared commitment across all parties to see the devolved institutions operating effectively in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

"Time is short, but the prize is one worth stretching for."

However, SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said the talks were not inclusive.

"While there was a meeting of the parties today, none of the substantive issues were discussed," he said.

"We still do not know the detail of what is going on behind closed doors between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

"If this process is to mean anything, all parties must engage and be engaged on equal terms."

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said there had been "no progress at all".

He said: "Today we have a situation where we are being asked to give them even more time and we are not being given the opportunity to discover what the DUP and SF have been working towards."

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long warned: "There is an opportunity still for a deal to be done, but at the moment I do not think we could have any confidence that a deal could be done if the process continues as it has."

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