STORMONT: Sinn Fein urges PM and Taoiseach to become involved in talks

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd (left) and Declan Kearney speaking to the media at Stormont Castle. PM Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd (left) and Declan Kearney speaking to the media at Stormont Castle. PM Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Sinn Fein has called on the Prime Minister and Irish Taoiseach to become directly involved in talks to save powersharing in Northern Ireland.

The republican party said Theresa May and Leo Varadkar had to engage as a "matter of urgency" to inject the "step change" needed to secure an agreement.

Accusing the Democratic Unionists of refusing to budge on central issues, Sinn Fein negotiator John O'Dowd said the two governments had to press the main unionist party to give ground.

As talks resumed at Stormont Castle in Belfast after Thursday's deadline for agreement came and went, Mr O'Dowd claimed the DUP had become "emboldened" by its parliamentary deal with the Conservative Party at Westminster and had entrenched its stance at Stormont as a result.

"After weeks of negotiations the DUP have still not agreed to the rights-based society that we require," he said.

Mr O'Dowd said the main sticking points were related to his party's demands for an Irish Language Act, a Northern Ireland specific Bill of Rights and legalisation of same sex-marriage in the region.

"The DUP's relationship with the Tory government has emboldened them, it has entrenched their positions in regards all those measures that need to be resolved," he said.

He added: "The British government need to remove their partisan approach and set aside their relationship with the DUP if these talks are to succeed."

Mr O'Dowd suggested any progress that had been made had been "snail" like.

He said: "We will stay here as long as there is a glimmer of hope that there will be success in these talks, but we are realists and we are experienced negotiators and we know there needs to be a step change in these talks - hence the reason we are calling on the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister to become directly involved.

"The public patience and our patience cannot go on forever, there needs to be a step change, there needs to be focus brought to these engagements."

The UK Government has extended the talks process until Monday, despite Stormont parties missing Thursday's statutory deadline.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire will make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday outlining the Government's intentions going forward.

In the absence of agreement, the options open to Mr Brokenshire include setting another deadline for the talks process, calling a second snap Assembly election or reimposing some form of direct rule from London.

If a deal was to materialise over the weekend, the Government could pass legislation to retrospectively change Thursday's missed deadline to enable a new executive to be formed without recourse to another election.

The institutions imploded in January when DUP leader Arlene 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 scheme that left the administration facing a £490 million overspend.

His move triggered a snap Assembly election in March.