An eleventh hour deal to break the talks deadlock at Stormont has been ruled out by Sinn Fein – as the DUP accused the republican party of refusing to attend all-party meetings.
Despite optimism in some quarters that the goodwill shown by DUP leader Arlene Foster in attending the funeral of Martin McGuinness could improve relations, it now seems certain that an agreement to re-establish the executive will not be possible before Monday’s 4pm deadline.
We want the institutions restored but when we said there will be no return to the status quo we meant itMichelle O’Neill
If a deal on the appointment of a new first and deputy first minister is not struck then Secretary of State James Brokenshire is obliged to call another Assembly election.
That would send voters back to the polls within weeks – for the third time in just under a year.
Sinn Fein said that the “talks process has run its course,” and added: “Sinn Féin will not be supporting nominations for speaker or the Executive tomorrow.”
The prospect of a breakthrough was already fading on Sunday afternoon when the DUP issued a downbeat assessment of the situation.
“The DUP was at the talks on Friday and Saturday and held meetings with other parties. We held a number of meetings with Sinn Fein including at leadership level. A substantial amount of time was wasted yesterday waiting for meetings to be held,” a spokesman said.
“On Friday morning we indicated to all concerned that we would continue to work late into Saturday evening but would not be available on Sunday. To date there has been no agreement across a range of issues. Unfortunately it has not been possible to have round table discussions involving all parties because Sinn Fein were not prepared to attend such sessions.
“We will continue to work on all of the issues,” the DUP spokesman added.
The last election was triggered in January when Sinn Fein declined to nominate a replacement for outgoing deputy first minister Martin McGuinness. The party said it would refuse to do so until Arlene Foster agreed to step aside as first minister pending the outcome of the inquiry into the botched RHI scheme.
On Sunday Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill said: “When the extent of the RHI scandal became apparent and the first minister refused to step aside, Martin McGuinness acted and made clear there could be no return to the status quo. The decision by Martin McGuinness to resign was endorsed in the election. The election result has transformed the political landscape.
“Sinn Féin is still intent on honouring our mandate and agreements made. We want to see the institutions restored but when we said there will be no return to the status quo we meant it.”