SDLP leader: DUP/SF must admit they have changed positions

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said a hard Brexit had the potential to destabilise the peace process
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said a hard Brexit had the potential to destabilise the peace process

Details of powersharing compromises allegedly conceded by the DUP and Sinn Fein must be made public, the SDLP leader has said.

On the first day of talks on Wednesday, Colum Eastwood said the UK and Irish governments had told him Stormont’s two main parties had given significant ground on key sticking points last November and were very close to a deal.

He said it was time for the DUP and Sinn Fein to stop pretending to the public they had not shifted their negotiation positions.

“We are not interested in propping up a farce and it’s about time we began to be honest with the public because the two governments have both confirmed to us today what we all already know – that last November both the DUP and Sinn Fein compromised significantly, and they are denying that truth to the public,” he said.

He added: “Stop trying to pretend to the public that nobody has moved and nobody has compromised.”

The first days of the latest round of negotiations saw Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Irish deputy premier and foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney meet with the five main Stormont parties.

The DUP and Sinn Fein met with both government ministers together.

The UK Government has characterised the initiative as a final opportunity to salvage the devolved institutions.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said his party held a forthright and honest meeting with Mrs Bradley, during which they stressed the need for an inclusive process.

“We won’t simply be here as window dressing,” he said.

Mr Swann also called for clarity on progress made during previous negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

“We see no point in joining a process to rehearse or regurgitate arguments and discussions that have already been,” he said. “We need to see the baselines. There is no point going in and wasting another week and a half establishing or regurgitating arguments that have already been had.”

With Northern Ireland having no local ministers to agree a budget for the next financial year, the government will face increased pressure to reintroduce a form of direct rule if the talks bid fails.

Mrs Bradley is due to update the House of Commons on the state of play on February 7.

She has insisted this is not a deadline, rather a “milestone”.