Deadline extended as ‘progress made’ at talks to save Stormont
NORTHERN Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has extended the deadline for the region’s two main parties to reach a deal to restore powersharing.
The DUP and Sinn Féin left Stormont shortly before 9pm last night having failed to reach an agreement.
Stormont’s power-sharing crisis has raised the prospect of a return to Westminster rule for Northern Ireland.
The parties had been warned by Mr Brokenshire that they had until Monday to produce a written agreement or he would be forced to legislate for a budget for the region at Westminster. However, he later said that progress had been made, and he was therefore going to defer his decision to legislate for a budget.
In a statement he said: “The parties have made further progress during the course of today. They are making certain additional requests of the UK Government which we need to consider.
“In the light of this, I believe it is right to defer the assessment on whether to introduce legislation to Parliament this week to enable an Executive to be formed.
“The parties will recommence talks in the morning and I will reassess the position tomorrow night.”
The Northern Ireland Executive collapsed in January and it has been without a powersharing government since then.
Despite endless rounds of discussions, a deal to restore devolution has proved elusive with the introduction of an Irish language act seen as the main issue. Mr Brokenshire and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney were in Belfast yesterday to try to help find a breakthrough to the political deadlock.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald also joined their party’s negotiating team at Stormont.
Throughout the day the DUP, Sinn Féin and the Irish and UK Governments stayed tightlipped about any progress in the negotiations.
Before talks began on Monday morning the DUP called on Mr Brokenshire to set a budget to ensure a “measure of good government” in the region.
The party said it would not accept “a bad agreement cobbled together to suddenly suit the timetables of others”.
Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said while a deal can still be done, it “needs to be a deal for all in our society and not just for the political leaderships of unionism”.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said the government was still working with the parties on reaching an agreement.
Earlier SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that if a deal is not reached by Monday’s deadline, his party will not accept direct rule from Westminster but only joint rule from both London and Dublin.
“It would be a significant and serious breach of our political accommodation in the North and therefore must not be the automatic and the only fall-back option,” he said.
The UK’s Secretary of State James Brokenshire has warned the North’s budget may have to be legislated for at Westminster