Northern Ireland news

No breakthrough in talks as governments prepare final push

Arlene Foster said Michelle O'Neill continued to "reiterate her red lines". Picture by Mark Marlow

THERE is growing speculation that the two governments will push to secure agreement between Stormont's parties by the middle of next week.

One source suggested there could even be an assembly sitting as early as next Friday but as the talks broke up last night it appeared significant differences remained between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Neither of the two governments was commenting on their plans for next week when the health crisis is expected to further deepen with scheduled strike action by nurses.

At the conclusion of yesterday's negotiations, relations between the assembly's two biggest parties seemed tetchier than the previous day.

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill was insistent that any deal to restore the institutions would include an Irish language act, the element of the draft 2018 deal regarded by unionists as most unpalatable.

"Clearly there will be an Irish language act as part of a deal but what we need to see is a package of measures that allows public confidence to be generated again in our ability to deliver good politics,"she said.

"What success looks like to me is, yes, there will be an Irish language act and yes, there will be a package of measures that looks at a range of issues."

The Mid Ulster MLA said her party was seeking respect for the Irish national identity and an end to what she termed as discriminatory behaviour, such as DUP minister Paul Givan's withdrawal of funding for children learning Irish in the Gaeltacht.

"What we want is to bring about new style politics in the assembly that commands the widest public support," she said.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster was critical of Ms O'Neill, who she said "continues to reiterate her red lines".

"I would much prefer to look for common ground in relation to where we're going for the executive," she said.

"I want a fair and balanced deal that respects everyone's identity in Northern Ireland."

In a tweet yesterday evening, the former first minister said the assembly needed to restored "on a sustainable basis".

"Remove the incentive to collapse," she said, adding that "no identity should be elevated above the other".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the negotiations needed "urgency".

"I don't think this going on for the next week is actually going to help the process – it can only hinder it and we need to get on with it," he said.

Alliance's Kellie Armstrong said the day had been "slow and frustrating".

"While the governments may be frustrated with us, we're frustrated with them and with each other but we're not fighting, we're looking at detail," she said.

"We're keeping going, there have been some positive and proactive conversations happening but we're just not there yet."

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said he did not want to create a sense of false optimism.

"Quite frankly, I don't know where we are – there is a possibility of us achieving a deal but right now we need to concentrate on getting these substantial issues dealt with, we need accountable, responsible government going forward, there has got to be change," he said.

Members of Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge were left disappointed when a scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Julian Smith was postponed with 10 minutes' notice.

The group said they were "extremely disappointed" with Mr Smith and had offered to meet with him in the next few days.

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Northern Ireland news