Deadline looms for parties to strike Stormont powersharing deal

Politicians have until 4pm today to reach a deal aimed at restoring powersharing.
Politicians have until 4pm today to reach a deal aimed at restoring powersharing.

Political leaders in Northern Ireland have until this afternoon to strike a deal as talks on restoring Stormont powersharing continue.

At midday a sitting of the devolved Assembly in Belfast is due to nominate devolved ministers to a coalition government.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire

Secretary of State James Brokenshire

The formal deadline is 4pm or they face the prospect of some version of direct rule from Westminster or yet another snap Assembly election.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said failure to strike a powersharing deal would have “profound and serious” implications.

Sinn Fein has claimed the DUP are standing in the way of a deal and urged the British and Irish governments to intervene but a representative of Northern Ireland’s main unionist party said he would be happy to elect devolved ministers on Thursday.

Among the sticking points are republican demands for an Irish Language Act, which would bestow official protection for the minority tongue, and equal rights for the LGBT community.

The DUP has told Sinn Fein to stop indulging in “high-wire acts” and get down to the job of delivering for the people.

The DUP is willing to legislate on the language issue, but only if Ulster Scots speakers are included in any Act - a condition Sinn Fein has rejected.

Ulster Unionist (UUP) leader Robin Swann said his party would not provide “cover” for the DUP if it signed up to an Irish Language Act.

He said there were many issues the UUP wanted to raise, including mechanisms for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles and pensions for conflict victims.

Sinn Fein has hinted movement was possible on one precondition - its opposition to DUP leader Arlene Foster returning as Stormont first minister while a public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme is ongoing - if the DUP gave ground on other matters.

Mrs Foster was forced from office in January when Sinn Fein’s then deputy first minister, the late Martin McGuinness, quit in protest at the DUP’s handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) - a scheme that left the administration facing a £490 million overspend.

His move triggered a snap assembly election in March.

A number of attempts to restore powersharing between the five main parties following that poll floundered, with three UK Government deadlines for a deal having already been missed.