Parties dismiss plan to shift location of power-sharing talks

Suggestions that talks aimed at salvaging devolution could be shifted away from Stormont have been met with derision by most of NI's main political parties.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government since power-sharing collapsed in January
Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government since power-sharing collapsed in January

It is understood that officials in the NI Office are exploring the possibility of moving the negotiations to other venues in a bid to break the political stalemate.

According to reports, at least two venues have been sounded out, including the Slieve Donard hotel in Newcastle, Co Down, and Rockliffe Hall, a five-star luxury golf and spa resort near Darlington.

But the proposals – which are said to be one of a number of options being considered – have been roundly dismissed by politicians.

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon MLA said a “change in attitude” from the DUP and Sinn Fein was needed, rather than a change in venue.

Both the SDLP and Alliance called for an independent chair to be brought in to help progress the negotiations.

Ms Mallon added: “James Brokenshire can no longer be viewed as an impartial broker given his government’s cosy deal with the DUP.”

Echoing these remarks, Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson told the News Letter: “There will only be success if a third-party, independent mediator is brought in to assist the parties.

“Any plans to move the talks process out of Stormont is nonsense. What we need is a change of heart from the DUP and Sinn Fein.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler called on the two largest parties to show “political maturity”, adding: “It is both a terrible and sad indictment on Sinn Fein and the DUP that after almost a year of political collapse, we are talking about needing a neutral venue as a possibility of getting political stability back on track again.”

TUV leader Jim Allister branded the plan a “waste” of taxpayers’ money, adding: “At a time when hospitals and schools are going short there can be no justification for such squander.”

DUP MP Gregory Campbell told the News Letter: “No matter where the talks are held, if Sinn Fein is going to maintain preconditions then there will be no progress.”

Today, he told BBC Radio Foyle that a fresh round of talks was expected to begin “within the next 10 days”.

Sinn Fein’s stance on the mooted relocation of talks was unclear. When asked by the News Letter if it would support moving the talks out of Stormont, the party issued a statement from Sinead Ennis MLA, who said: “Sinn Fein wants the political institutions restored on the basis of equality, rights and respect.”