The DUP have ridiculed a Sinn Fein call for the Prime Minister and Taoiseach to intervene in Stormont’s crisis talks, insisting the republicans “don’t need anyone to hold their hands”.
DUP negotiator Edwin Poots was responding to a demand from the party that Theresa May and Leo Varadkar engage as a “matter of urgency” to create the “step change” needed to secure an agreement.
No 10 said Mrs May had been in touch with the parties during the process, but Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire was the UK government’s representative in the talks.
In another development, outgoing head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service Sir Malcolm McKibbin is to continue his role as the independent chair of the talks process.
While Sir Malcolm formally retired on Friday, the parties asked him to stay on to help steer the negotiations.
After further negotiations at Stormont Castle on Friday – the day after Thursday’s deadline for agreement came and went – Mr Poots said: “I think Sinn Fein can do the business very quickly, they know what’s required of them – they don’t need anybody to hold their hands.
“They just need to sit upstairs, make the decisions that need to be made, and come and tell us of those decisions so we can get on with the business.”
Accusing the DUP of refusing to budge on central issues, Sinn Fein negotiator John O’Dowd claimed the DUP had become “emboldened” by its parliamentary deal with the Conservatives 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.
He suggested any progress that had been made had come at the pace of a “snail”.
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.”
Mr Poots meanwhile said his party wanted Sinn Fein to compromise on issues including the Military Covenant and “confidence-building” proposals to reform the workings of the Stormont institutions.
Discussions are set to continue over the weekend, and it is now hoped a deal will be done on Monday.