Northern Ireland news

Two governments get ready to release draft Stormont deal

Arlene Foster said agreement was possible ahead of next Monday's deadline. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

THE two governments are preparing to present Stormont's parties with a draft agreement in an effort to bring fresh dynamism to an increasingly lacklustre negotiation process.

Sources close to the talks were reporting only slow progress yesterday despite a hope that engagement between the DUP and Sinn Féin would intensify.

While both parties were involved in separate discussions with the two governments, anticipated face-to-face talks involving Stormont's big two had yet to take place by teatime.

Secretary of State Julian Smith rejoined the talks early yesterday afternoon, having spent the night in London where he briefed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the process so far.

He is expected to join Tánaiste Simon Coveney as they host a round-table meeting early today where they will outline the negotiating timetable for the coming days, potentially including plans to furnish the parties with a draft deal.

It is unclear whether the governments will undertake an unprecedented move and make the blueprint for agreement public.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said agreement ahead of next Monday's deadline, when legislation giving civil servants decision-making powers expires, was "possible" but repeated her desire that it be "fair and balanced".

She said once the governments published an outline agreement it would be assessed to see whether it addressed her party's main concerns, which centre on an Irish language act and reform of the petition of concern.

"Until we see text in relation to those issues then we'll make an assessment as to whether we can move forward," she said.

Mrs Foster sounded an optimistic note, saying she believed "everybody is in the space where they want to do a deal".

"We are ready to do a deal and if there is fair balanced text put toward us we will do that deal," she said.

In the morning, Sinn Féin provided northern MPs, MLAs and leading party figures with an update on the negotiations but in what many believe was evidence of few significant developments, made no comment to the media.

The slowness of pace around Parliament Buildings was reflected by Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler, who said the process lacked urgency.

"There really does need to be a refocusing of minds and a more concerted effort to get these talks to a conclusion," he said.

He said there was a need for the two governments to table working papers to the parties so they could start to hammer out a deal.

"The problems and difficulties are well rehearsed," he said. "There have been three years of intensive and non-intensive talks and, as we can see today, there is no real intensity – we would like to see that stepped up within the next 24 hours."

Tomorrow 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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