Northern Ireland news

No sign of a breakthrough in Stormont talks' impasse

Conor Murphy said none of the talks issues 'need to be exhausted ad infinitum'. Picture by Hugh Russell

TALKS aimed at restoring devolution are scheduled to continue today though the prospects of an immediate breakthrough remain remote.

The DUP was last continuing to be cautious in its approach to any deal, which other participants believe can be struck without delay.

The party's Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson conceded that "all roads lead back to Stormont", however, the terms on which the DUP will agree to restore the institutions have yet to be met.

Stormont's five main parties came together yesterday for the first time since before Christmas for a roundtable oversaw by Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Secretary of State Julian Smith.

Reform of the petition of concern, measures aimed at safeguarding the Irish language, and a financial package to accompany any deal appear to be the main issues on which discussions are centred.

Emerging from the multilateral talks, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy said there was "no need" to draw the talks out until the January 13 deadline that sees Westminster legislation giving civil servants decision-making powers expire.

"We think agreement can be reached in short order, we don't see any need to run this down to the wire to January 13 in some kind of dramatic way," he said.

"The issues that we are dealing with are all well rehearsed, what we need now is political will to get down to resolving very very quickly and that is going to be our focus in the next day or two."

Listing the issues on which the talks focused, the Newry and Armagh MLA said none "need to be exhausted ad infinitum".

Sir Jeffrey said the restoration of the institutions remained an "absolute priority" and that the DUP was engaging with the other parties on the outstanding issues.

"All roads lead back to Stormont and we want to see the outstanding issues properly addressed," he said.

"We want to see the sustainability that is necessary to ensure that we get political stability, that we remove for the future the ability of one party to hold the people of Northern Ireland to ransom whilst recognising of course that we want politics to work in Northern Ireland."

He said the DUP wanted the negotiations concluded "as quickly as possible" but was seeking an outcome that was "fair and balanced" and sustainable.

"We are not in the business of snatching at something because there is a deadline, we want Stormont restored and we want it restored as soon as possible," he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said a deal could be reached and that the talks should "not be dragged out any longer".

He said a deal could be secured "within hours".

"There are major decisions that haven't been taken because we have had no executive here for three years – it is time to get on with it, there is no reason to drag this out for any longer," he said.

"We also have to figure out what this government is going to do because we haven't had one for three years, so we're very concerned about what the programme for government may look like."

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