N Ireland set to miss powersharing deal deadline after sitting cancelled

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy (centre) speaks to the media at Stormont, Belfast, as a scheduled meeting of the Stormont Assembly has been postponed amid intensive last-ditch negotiations to restore powersharing before today's 4pm deadline.
Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy (centre) speaks to the media at Stormont, Belfast, as a scheduled meeting of the Stormont Assembly has been postponed amid intensive last-ditch negotiations to restore powersharing before today's 4pm deadline.

Stormont's political leaders are set to miss a deadline to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland after a scheduled Assembly sitting to nominate ministers was axed.

Confirmation that the sitting was scrapped came as senior Democratic Unionist negotiator Edwin Poots announced there would be "no breakthrough" today.

Edwin Poots

Edwin Poots

The UK Government's 4pm deadline to restore powersharing looks like falling by the wayside, as three previous deadlines have already done this year, with Mr Poots insisting negotiations would continue this evening and through into the weekend.

Mr Poots said if a deal did not materialise in the near future he would prefer direct rule ministers to take over running Stormont departments.

"The talks are continuing, obviously there is not going to be a breakthrough that would lead to nominations taking place today," he said.

"The talks will continue - Sinn Fein know what they need to do."

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy (left) and Declan Kearney speak to the media at Stormont, Belfast, as a scheduled meeting of the Stormont Assembly has been postponed amid intensive last-ditch negotiations to restore powersharing before today's 4pm deadline

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy (left) and Declan Kearney speak to the media at Stormont, Belfast, as a scheduled meeting of the Stormont Assembly has been postponed amid intensive last-ditch negotiations to restore powersharing before today's 4pm deadline

He added: "At this stage we aren't close to an agreement, there is considerable work to be done and we believe the ball is in the court of Sinn Fein in the main in dealing with a series of outstanding issues."

Mr Poots said Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire would make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday outlining the way ahead in the wake of yet another broken deadline.

His comments came minutes after Sinn Fein had warned the DUP it was "make up your mind time".

The two parties, whose agreement is a pre-requisite of the formation of a new administration, have accused each other of refusing to give ground on key issues.

The key sticking point in the way of a deal appears to be Sinn Fein's demand for an Irish Language Act, which would bestow official protections for Gaelic speakers.

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.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said "limited progress" had been made to bridge the gaps but claimed the DUP had to give much more ground if a deal was to happen.

"In our view it's now make up your mind time for the DUP," he said.

"We have always said this can be done in a matter of hours - the issues are very clear, there are still gaps in terms of trying to establish a rights-based approach to these institutions working, as per the Good Friday Agreement.

"We want to close those gaps. There has been some limited progress in closing those gaps. We want to get this done, we want to get it done quickly and on a sustainable basis."