Talks to pause over Easter with still no sign of any agreement

Alliance party leader Naomi Long addressing the media in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Stormont. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 11, 2017. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: David Young/PA Wire
Alliance party leader Naomi Long addressing the media in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Stormont. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 11, 2017. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: David Young/PA Wire

Stormont talks to restore power-sharing look to have been put on hold until after Easter.

Good Friday was looming as the deadline for agreement but last night the BBC was reporting that talks will be paused until after the Easter period.

Whether it will bring the DUP and Sinn Fein closer to reaching an agreement remains to be seen, with both parties blaming the other yesterday of jeopardising devolution.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said republicans would only strike a deal to form a new administration at Stormont if the DUP gave ground on a series of “rights-based” issues.

DUP negotiator Sir Jeffrey Donaldson questioned Sinn Fein’s commitment and predicted they were preparing to “walk away yet again”.

Sinn Fein insisted the key to progress is implementing outstanding parts of previous agreements, while the DUP said what Sinn Fein is asking for represents new and unreasonable demands.

“The two big parties need to realise there is more to life than what happens in the Stormont bubble,” said UUP leader Robin Swann.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long commented: “What we have here is far too precious to simply squander because of vanity projects of individual parties.”

Mr Adams claimed the majority of people here wanted movement in terms of protection of Irish language speakers and the legalisation of gay marriage, but the DUP was standing in the way.

He said his party would reluctantly countenance going back into power-sharing without movement on legacy logjams, as they were not a devolved issue, but he said that would not be ideal.

The Sinn Fein leader also questioned the main unionist party’s level of engagement in negotiations to save devolution, claiming they had only met his party for bilateral leadership talks twice in four days.

“The question for the DUP is very, very simple – do they want to be part of the leadership of a rights-based society or not?” he said.

Mr Adams’ claims were rejected by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

“I am afraid this is more evidence of Sinn Fein trying to cover their back and trying to prepare the way for yet another walk-out,” said the Lagan Valley MP.

“I predict that Sinn Fein will walk away yet again – just as they did two weeks ago, just as they did in January.

“They are rapidly becoming the party that walks out on the other parties.

“When it comes to commitment, we are there, we are ready to form a government, we are engaging with Sinn Fein and the other parties on all of the issues, we are there every day.”

Secretary of State James Brokenshire had said previously he would start formulating legislative steps to either restore devolution or take responsibility for some devolved financial matters over the Easter weekend.

While that statement had cast Good Friday as a potential deadline for agreement, the BBC was reporting last night a source had told them the talks will end today and reconvene immediately after the Easter break.

In regard to face-to-face leadership talks with the DUP, Mr Adams claimed there had been one meeting last Thursday and one on Monday.

“That is not the best use of time,” he said.

The Sinn Fein president added: “We went looking for the DUP on Monday evening and they had left.”