Stormont talks: NI secretary says not all parties on board for agreement

Julian Smith

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The NI secretary said he was “deeply disappointed” and urged the DUP to reflect on its decision

The British and Irish governments say progress has been made in talks to restore Stormont, but the Democratic Unionist Party is holding up a deal.

The secretary of state said he was “deeply disappointed” the Stormont parties were not yet in agreement.

Julian Smith was speaking after a meeting involving the five party leaders and the tánaiste Simon Coveney.

He said the governments had wanted to table text of agreement on Thursday but “not all parties are on board”.

Northern Ireland has been without devolved government since January 2017.

The NI Assembly collapsed when the two biggest parties – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin – split in a bitter row over the DUP’s handling of a green energy scandal.

Limited issues

“We are very close to being able to table a text of agreement and compromise,” said Mr Smith.

“I wanted to do it tonight or tomorrow. I believe if we could table a text we could be back in the assembly on Monday.

“There are a number of outstanding issues but they are extremely limited.

“But unfortunately we do not have all parties on board, so the judgement I have made is that we should not table text.

“We will allow all parties to reflect on the impact of that decision on people in Northern Ireland who are deeply affected by the lack of decision making at Stormont.”

The tánaiste (Irish deputy prime minister) Simon Coveney said if there was a change of approach from the DUP on Thursday evening, a deal could still be reached before Christmas.

But he warned the governments would not bring parties back on Friday to “waste their time”.

“We are at a place where the two governments within hours could produce a text – a fair compromise,” he said.

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PA Media

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On Thursday Mr Smith met the parties to discuss NI’s health crisis, as part of the overall process to restore devolution

The governments say devolution must be restored by 13 January 2020, or the secretary of state will call a fresh assembly election.

Mr Smith said he hoped the parties would find time on Thursday night to reflect, and made a plea to the DUP.

“I know there are people in the DUP who want to move forward and I would urge them to move forward so we can get this done,” he said.

‘Have courage and lead’

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long described it as a “disappointing end” to the week, and said the parties needed to come back after Christmas and get a deal over the line.

“I believe a deal could be done now, real progress has been made – unfortunately not all of the parties agree that is the case,” she said.

“People now need to have the courage and lead, rather than simply wait for others.”

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Nichola Mallon said a deal was possible before Christmas

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said her party would continue its commitment with the talks, but said it was difficult to point to a particular stumbling block.

“It’s unfortunate the DUP don’t feel they are in that space (to get a deal)… but we would encourage them, we will still be here and it is possible to do a deal before Christmas,” she said.

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said his party would be ready with their “phones on” over Christmas to restore devolution.

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Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said his party would be ready with their “phones on” over Christmas

“It would be interesting if we knew what the DUP’s legitimate concerns were,” he said.

“All five parties need to be involved.”

Deal unlikely

Speaking before the roundtable meeting, the DUP’s Gordon Lyons said it was unlikely a deal would be reached in the coming days.

He said “gaps remain” and work should continue.

On his way into Stormont House for the roundtable, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said a deal could be reached before Christmas.

“I believe that view is shared by both governments and at least three of the other parties.

“There is an onus on us all to reach an agreement.”

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