Bitter recriminations as Stormont talks look set to be shelved for summer

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill
DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill

Talks to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland are set to be effectively shelved for the summer amid bitter recriminations over the failure to strike a deal.

While the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein both said they were prepared to engage in the coming weeks, both acknowledged substantive negotiations would not resume until the autumn.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Simon Hamilton address media as talks wound up at Stormont Castle, Belfast, as Foster has said she is disappointed an agreement to restore powersharing has not been reached in Northern Ireland, suggesting a deal will now have to wait until at least the autumn.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Simon Hamilton address media as talks wound up at Stormont Castle, Belfast, as Foster has said she is disappointed an agreement to restore powersharing has not been reached in Northern Ireland, suggesting a deal will now have to wait until at least the autumn.

Imminent recesses at Stormont and Westminster - and heightened community tensions around the loyal order marching season - are among the factors inhibiting a breakthrough in the short term.

An official suspension has yet to be confirmed by the UK government.

Any pause in the process would likely require the Government to intervene to pass a budget for Stormont's rudderless administration.

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill claimed the Conservative Party's parliament deal with the DUP was one of the main reasons efforts to establish a new administration have floundered.

"What this constitutes is a monumental failure on behalf of Theresa May," she said.

"She has set back decades of work that has been done here throughout the years and it's a consequence, as we all know, of the DUP supporting the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister in turn supporting the DUP."

The DUP has cited Sinn Fein's "excessive demands" as the reason for the logjam.

Party leader Arlene Foster suggested a deal will now have to wait until at least the autumn.

"We are disappointed we don't have an agreement this afternoon," said the DUP leader.

"We are going to keep working at it through the summer and hopefully we can come to an agreement later on in the year," she said.

"We are certainly up for an agreement, we are up for devolution."

Mrs Foster and Mrs O'Neill both insisted MLAs should continue to get paid, despite the fact the Assembly has been in cold storage since March.

Offering justification for paying the £49,500 salary to 90 MLAs, the leaders stressed that their representatives would continue to work hard over the summer.

The DUP and Sinn Fein, the two parties whose sign-off is required to form a devolved government, remain at loggerheads over a range of issues.

Sticking points include the shape of legislation to protect Irish language speakers, the DUP's opposition to lifting the region's ban on same-sex marriage, and mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

While MLAs have not been sitting in Parliament Buildings since March's snap election, the Assembly's official summer recess starts on Friday.

Next week will also witness the "Twelfth of July" - the key fixture in the Protestant loyal order marching season.

Negotiations were always unlikely to succeed if they stretched into mid-July, when they would be framed against the backdrop of the heightened community tensions that traditionally surround the Orange Order commemorations.

On Monday, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said he felt a powersharing executive could still be established this week.

His optimism was not shared by the parties at Stormont, with the DUP and Sinn Fein continuing to blame each other for the impasse.

The devolved institutions imploded in January when Mrs Foster was forced from office after Sinn Fein's then deputy first minister, the late Martin McGuinness, quit.

That was in protest at the DUP's handling of the renewable heat incentive (RHI), a botched scheme that left the administration facing a £490 million overspend.

Mr McGuinness's move triggered March's snap Assembly poll and subsequent months of faltering negotiations to restore a devolved government.