Political news

Parties not due around the table until next month

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O'Neill, Elisha McCallion, Conor Murphy and Gerry Kelly arrive at Stormont. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

TALKS aimed at restoring devolution will continue at Stormont today but it is understood that round-table negotiations will not begin for at least 10 days.

The British and Irish governments have insisted that the process will conclude within 'weeks rather than months' but Secretary of State Karen Bradley has refused to be drawn on setting a deadline.

The DUP and Sinn Féin emerged from bilateral meetings yesterday in positive mood but the smaller parties remain frustrated by a lack of information about what was apparently agreed between Stormont's two biggest parties in previous rounds of talks last year.

Sinn Féin leader-in-waiting Mary Lou McDonald joined her party's delegation for the opening day of the negotiations.

However, it was Newry and Mourne MLA Conor Murphy who addressed the media.

He dismissed the call to publish details of what had previously been agreed, saying his party had "never conducted our negotiations in public".

Mr Murphy said he was hopeful the DUP would be remain positive in its approach when the two parties engaged today.

DUP MP and negotiator Gregory Campbell said the first round of discussions had been "quite productive".

He said the need to set a regional budget against a background of financial pressures on the north's health and education sectors had given the process impetus.

"We have passed the time for talks, it is time to get government back up and running," he said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster had earlier said the negotiations "should not be about party political shopping lists".

She said the north did not need "stand-alone legislation which is exclusive to the Irish language" - a key sticking point in efforts to restore the devolved institutions.

"There are multiple languages and cultures in Northern Ireland, we should seek to embrace and support that diversity," she said in a platform piece for the Belfast Telegraph.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the DUP and Sinn Féin needed to "stop trying to pretend" they had not compromised during last year's talks.

He said the two governments had confirmed that the two parties had "compromised significantly".

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the process needed to be "fully participative" with all five parties involved.

"We are not content to be part of a process that is merely window dressing," he said.

Alliance said it used the meeting with the secretary of state to highlight the plight of survivors and victims of institutional abuse.

Lagan Valley MLA Trevor Lunn said it was his party's preference that the issue be resolved by assembly members but that the political impasse was having a "devastating effect" on the victims of abuse.

Meanwhile, DUP MP Sammy Wilson has accused the Republic's government of having "a very public hissy fit" over Brexit.

Speaking yesterday during a session of Westminster's Exiting the European Union Committee, he also claimed the all-island economy was a "nationalist myth".

Last week Mr Wilson said he regretted his choice of language after calling Taoiseach Leo Varadkar a "nutcase".

The DUP's Brexit spokesman made the comment after Mr Varadkar said the UK could not "backslide" on commitments over the Irish border.

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