UUP leader Robin Swann rejected sympathy from the Secretary of State during political talks yesterday by assuring her that he was “not here for a counselling session”.
Amid speculation that an agreement could be achieved as early as next week, both Arlene Foster and Gerry Adams sounded upbeat last night, reporting that definite progress had been made.
However, there was frustration among the three smaller parties yesterday as they turned up for the second planned round table session of the week to find the DUP and Sinn Fein had stayed away to engage only with each other.
One source revealed that Secretary of State Karen Bradley arrived ten minutes late to tell the UUP, SDLP and Alliance that the two largest parties would not be joining them.
“They are engaged in very intensive discussions and we need to let them thrash things out,” she is reported as saying.
The three “frustrated” smaller parties were reportedly given no information, nor asked for any input on any of the substantive issues during the session, which was attended by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
One source said Mrs Bradley told the smaller parties: “I feel your frustration” to which UUP leader Robin Swann replied: “I am not here for a counselling session. I am here to get a government up and running.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood echoed his UUP counterpart’s sentiments.
“I’ve told both governments when the two-party process is concluded and they are ready to engage in five-party negotiations the SDLP will be ready to negotiate.”
The previous power-sharing assembly was pulled down by Sinn Fein in January 2017, ostensibly over the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. Since then Sinn Fein has at various times insisted that the DUP give way on an Irish language act, same sex marriage and legacy issues before they will return to government.
An Irish language Act in particular appears to have taken on major symbolic significance for republicans, while the DUP has at times hinted it may consider a hybrid act including Ulster-Scots culture.
However once source close to the talks suggested that there might be some distance between the DUP talks team and the party’s MPs on any deal.
Talks are unlikely to continue through the weekend as Sinn Fein is installing new president Mary Lou McDonald in Dublin and the DUP traditionally avoids doing business on Sundays.