Stormont power-sharing talks going down to the wire

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    A general view shows Parliament Buildings at Stormont in BelfastImage copyright Reuters
    Image caption Northern Ireland has effectively been without a devolved government for almost six months

    Talks to restore Northern Ireland’s devolved government are going down to the wire, with just one full day left for parties to reach an agreement.

    Discussions have been taking place to bring back power-sharing at Stormont before Thursday afternoon’s deadline.

    On Tuesday, Sinn Féin warned that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had not moved on any of the main issues at the centre of the political crisis.

    The DUP encouraged Sinn Féin to “come back from the brink”.

    The parties called time on negotiations shortly after 22:30 BST, with plans to resume on Wednesday morning.

    On Tuesday, Secretary of State James Brokenshire said there had been “intensive engagement” but warned that time for a deal was running short, stressing that the deadline was set down in law.

    The parties have until 16:00 BST on Thursday to restore the executive or Northern Ireland faces the prospect of a return of direct rule from London.

    Mr Brokenshire is heading to London on Wednesday for Northern Ireland Questions and the vote on the Queen’s Speech, which sets out the government’s legislative programme for the next two years.

    ‘High-wire acts’

    The negotiations involve the five main Northern Ireland parties and the UK and Irish governments, although a deal is dependent on whether the two biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, can resolve their differences.

    These include republican demands for a stand-alone Irish Language Act and rights for the LGBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community.

    BBC News NI political correspondent Gareth Gordon said there was little sign of a deal being close on Tuesday, with “rancour replacing whatever hope existed”.

    Sinn Féin chairman Declan Kearney said there must be a free-standing Irish Language Act for there to be progress.

    “The DUP have not moved on any of the substantive issues which sit at the heart of this crisis,” he said. “They haven’t moved on any of the fundamental rights and equality issues that require to be embraced.”

    Image copyright EPA
    Image caption The DUP’s Edwin Poots said his party had “no red lines”

    DUP negotiator Edwin Poots urged Sinn Féin not to engage in “high-wire acts”.

    He suggested a “parallel process” could be initiated where an executive is formed while talks on the outstanding issues continued.

    Mr Poots said negotiations were ongoing.

    “I can’t say they are easy but nonetheless we want to get Stormont up and running and we can get it up and running straight away and distribute the money our DUP have successfully received from the UK government,” he said.

    Westminster deal

    He was referring to the £1bn the DUP negotiated for Northern Ireland as part of an agreement to prop up Theresa May’s minority government.

    Under the “supply and confidence” arrangement, the DUP guarantees that its 10 MPs will vote with the government on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget, and legislation relating to Brexit and national security.

    While rival Stormont parties have largely welcomed the additional funding, concerns have been raised that the deal could undermine the peace process and devolution negotiations, with the UK government dependent on the support of the DUP.

    Northern Ireland has effectively been without a devolved government for almost six months.

    Its institutions collapsed amid a bitter row between the DUP and Sinn Féin about a botched green energy scheme.

    View the original article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-40424927

    The late deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, stood down in protest over the DUP’s handling of an investigation into the scandal, in a move that triggered a snap election in March.

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