Northern Ireland news

Talks set to intensify as January 13 deadline looms

Talks aimed at restoring devolution are expected to intensify. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

THE Stormomt talks are expected to ramp up today with the two governments aiming to publish an outline deal before the end of the week

With just six days to go until the January 13 deadline, both Secretary of State Julian Smith and Tánaiste Simon Coveney are expected to oversee an intensification of negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Mr Smith, who yesterday flew to London to update Prime Minister Boris Johnson on progress to date, has said fresh assembly elections will be called if the deadlock prevails.

He is expected to return to Belfast following a cabinet meeting this morning.

The secretary of state spent the weekend meeting delegations from the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance Party, as well as community groups and loyalist paramilitaries, at Hillsborough Castle.

Significant differences are understood to still exist around an Irish language act and reform of the assembly's petition of concern.

However, British government sources have indicated that the parties are in agreement that tackling the deepening health crisis in the health service should be a priority for a restored executive.

Despite the apparent consensus around health, relations between the main parties remain strained, with yesterday's roundtable meeting being described as "boisterous" and an "all-out shouting match".

But speaking later in the afternoon Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy played down the reports of bad tempered exchanges.

He said the talks could be concluded quickly if there was "political will".

"We don't need dramatics, we don't need grandstanding, but what we need is political will to get agreement," he said. "The issues have been rehearsed, well rehearsed, for a long time."

He said the British government needed to provide leadership and needed to defend people's rights and act as a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.

The SDLP's Colin McGrath said the parties needed to "move into compromise mode".

TUV leader Jim Allister had earlier claimed there was requirement or justification for an Irish language act and that the sector was already "over-feted".

"Because the whole agenda of an Irish language act has nothing to do with linguistics, it has everything to do with politics, and the politics of a weaponised demand for an Irish language act is about de-Britishising Northern Ireland, making it a more uncomfortable place for unionists in their own land," he said.

Thursday marks three years since Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister, collapsing the institutions at the height of public outcry over the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

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