Stormont’s leaders were early Tuesday morning still locked in negotiations to hammer out a new political deal, and there were few signs of what the details of any agreement might involve.
The talks between the five Executive parties and the UK and Irish governments were continuing overnight, according to the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson.
The discussions are the culmination of around 11 weeks of talks, and last night’s last-gasp efforts came after Secretary of State Theresa Villiers issued an abrupt, tough-talking statement telling all involved “if there’s no agreement [on Monday], there isn’t going to be one, and the process ends in failure.”
First Minister Peter Robinson said yesterday the quest to strike a deal was set to go “down to the wire”.
“This is the day decisions have to be taken, whether that rolls into the early hours or not,” he said.
He added: “I think there is a real chance for us to do the job but it does require all of us to apply ourselves and at the end of the day it will require all of us to stretch ourselves.”
Sinn Fein negotiator Conor Murphy had struck a relatively upbeat note as he assessed the chances of progress.
“We came here 10 weeks ago trying to hammer out a deal, we are here today still trying to hammer out that deal, so we have to be optimistic, we are not naive about the challenges that are facing us, these are significant issues,” he said.
“I think there’s a sense of common purpose among the parties, not on every position but on a willingness to try and find something we can all live with.”
Earlier this month the Prime Minister tabled proposals that he said would have given Stormont access to an extra £1bn of spending powers.
Last week, the five Executive parties made a counter-bid, requesting roughly £2bn-plus of extra spending power over the next decade, made up of extra funding and loan access.
Earlier, Ms Villiers said any new financial support from the Government would be forthcoming only if progress was achieved on all the issues on the agenda.
She also said she was not prepared to let the talks drift into today.
It is understood the package put to Mr Cameron by the five parties envisages Treasury penalties for delayed implementation of welfare reform being waived; increased borrowing powers to fund a civil service voluntary redundancy scheme; and a multi-million-pound Government contribution to fund new mechanisms to investigate the legacy of the Troubles.
Yesterday evening, Mr Cameron’s revised offer was said to fall somewhere in between those two positions.
At around 11pm, Mr Donaldson explained that they were awaiting a paper from the Government.
At around midnight another source close to the talks said that a planned meeting between the parties and the two governments, expected at 7pm, had still not taken place.
“I don’t know what time we’re going to finish at,” he said.