The SDLP will not sign up to an anticipated political deal to salvage powersharing in Northern Ireland if it fails to measure up to its demands, a party negotiator has warned.
Alex Attwood said he believed Stormont’s two major parties – Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists – would strike an agreement in the coming days but he made clear his party’s support was not guaranteed.
“We will not sign up to a bad deal,” he said.
“We will look at the papers to see whether across the range of issues they measure up to the standards that we have been arguing for in these negotiations, and they have been very exacting (standards).”
He was speaking as the SDLP elected a new leader at the weekend
The talks are attempting to stabilise an administration that has lurched from one crisis to another in recent times, the latest sparked by a murder linked to the supposedly defunct Provisional IRA.
The fallout from the shooting of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan and a range of other disputes, including an acute budget crisis and a wrangle over how to tackle the legacy of the past, are on the agenda at the negotiations involving the five main Stormont parties and British and Irish governments.
The talks are set to resume at Stormont House on Monday morning.
While there is growing expectation some form of accord will emerge from the ten-week process, there is uncertainty about its breadth and the support it will command.
There is doubt whether the deal will incorporate new mechanisms to address the legacy of the Troubles, due to an ongoing row between Sinn Fein and the UK Government over the prospect of some official documents not being disclosed to envisaged truth recovery bodies.
While only DUP and Sinn Fein sign-off is required to implement any settlement, those parties would ideally like the endorsement of Stormont’s three other main players - the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party - to add greater legitimacy.
The UUP, which walked out of the coalition Executive in protest at the McGuigan murder, is viewed as the least likely of those three to sign up.
West Belfast Assembly member Mr Attwood, who said electoral fears were driving Sinn Fein and the DUP to do business, told the SDLP’s weekend conference in Armagh the deal must deliver meaningful change for his party to back it.
“Let’s see an outcome that changes the character of politics and our government, that lives up to the values and ambitions of the Good Friday Agreement, that deals decisively with the issues of paramilitarism and criminality, and sees victims and survivors get what they are seeking in terms of truth, accountability and acknowledgement,” he said.