Stormont talks to resume on Monday

Karen Bradley and Simon Coveney will be back at the Stormont talks on Monday.Picture by Hugh Russell.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Tanaiste Simon Coveney are expected in Belfast on Monday when talks aimed at restoring devolution are scheduled to resume.

While neither of the senior representatives of the two governments were at the negotiations yesterday, bilateral meetings between the parties and officials continued.

Further face-to-face discussions are expected to continue through most of next week ahead of planned round-table talks early next month.

One source close to the process told The Irish News that so far "everything was going smoothly".

It remains unclear, however, when the talks will conclude. Despite Mrs Bradley insisting the process will be "short" and "intense", she has refused to be drawn on setting a deadline. The Tory MP will update MPs on February 7 but she insists this does not represent a deadline.

Senior civil servant David Sterling told Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee this week that a budget for 2018-19 needed to be finalised early next month.

SDLP finance spokeswoman Claire Hanna last night said the Budgetary Outlook published before Christmas made "bleak reading".

A consultation on the Department of Finance document closed yesterday.

"The SDLP has responded to the consultation and made it clear that this process should be happening with an executive – it is the responsibility of politicians to deliver a budget through government," Ms Hanna said.

"To put it simply leaving this up-to unelected civil servants is a shameful dereliction of duty."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday lamented the absence of an executive and an assembly.

During a visit to Belfast, he said: "I believe it is inexcusable and unacceptable that we have been without an executive and without an assembly for nearly 12 months now."

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