Talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein aimed at restoring devolved government ended at about 9pm tonight without agreement – but without collapsing.
Despite the latest supposed deadline from Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire expiring at midnight, Sinn Féin told the BBC that the talks would resume tomorrow morning.
Less than a fortnight ago, Mr Brokenshire told the two parties that if they did not have a written agreement by the end of today “the only option remaining would be to legislate for a budget at Westminster”.
But in a statement half an hour after the talks ended tonight, Mr Brokenshire effectively said that he was extending the deadline for at least another 24 hours, citing “further progress” between the parties and unspecified “certain additional requests of the UK Government which we need to consider”.
British and Irish officials, along with the Republic’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, and Mr Brokenshire were present in Stormont yesterday. A senior Sinn Fein negotiating team included its Dublin-based leader, Gerry Adams, and deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald as well as another senior TD, Pearse Doherty.
Stormont’s smaller parties held a meeting earlier in the day to discuss the lack of openness and transparency in the talks negotiations.
On Monday morning, ahead of the resumption of talks, the DUP called on Mr Brokenshire to set a budget to ensure a “measure of good government”. The party said it will not accept “a bad agreement cobbled together to suddenly suit the timetables of others”.
Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy said: “If the political institutions are to be sustainable...that requires an end to the DUP’s denial of rights citizens enjoy everywhere else on these islands, language rights, marriage rights and the right to a coroner’s court.”
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “The latest we can practically introduce legislation to enable the executive’s formation would be this week in order for it to be in time for a new executive to set a budget.”