Powersharing talks set to restart at Stormont

Five main N Ireland parties to meet Irish and British governments with June 29th target

Sinn Féin South Antrim MLA Declan Kearney: reaching a deal requires “a serious focus” by all parties.  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Sinn Féin South Antrim MLA Declan Kearney: reaching a deal requires “a serious focus” by all parties. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Talks between the British and Irish governments and the five main Northern Ireland parties are due to resume at Stormont today with the aim of forming a powersharing government by June 29th.

Ahead of the latest deadline to get Stormont back running, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said the absence of devolved government in the North “deprives us of our rightful voice at the Brexit table”.

It is expected that new Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and British government secretary of state James Brokenshire will hold separate meetings with delegations from the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP and Alliance.

Stormont sources said the five party leaders are also due to take part in a round-table discussion with Mr Brokenshire and Mr Coveney. There will be a budget briefing and discussions on the Irish language and Ulster Scots.

It will be Mr Coveney’s first formal meeting with all of the parties since he took over the role from Charlie Flanagan last week.

Focus

Speaking at the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown yesterday, Sinn Féin South Antrim MLA Declan Kearney said reaching a deal requires “a serious focus” by all parties.

“It is not a game, and it is certainly not a dance,” he said, referencing comments DUP leader Arlene Foster made in Dublin on Friday. She said that the DUP was “ready to dance” with Sinn Féin, but it takes two to tango.

“If the DUP really wants to go into the Executive, that party needs to decide whether it is now prepared to embrace a rights-based approach to government in the North,” he added.

“If the DUP imagines it can wind back the clock, with a Tory side deal or not, and re-establish the institutions without adherence to equality and rights, then the DUP is indeed living in a fool’s paradise.”

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said Brexit should focus minds. She said the DUP and Sinn Féin leaders had seemed to soften their approach in the last week and she is optimistic a deal can be reached.

“We have got two weeks with a lot of the distractions out of the way and getting into the detail I think it is clear the main obstacles are not insurmountable,” she said.

“If the approach of the parties matches their recent public commentary we can get a deal done quite quickly.”

Mixed signals

Meanwhile, Mr Eastwood has voiced concerns about “mixed signals” coming from the DUP as official Brexit negotiations begin in Brussels.

“On the one hand, Arlene Foster tells us she does not wish to see a hard Border and on another Ian Paisley tells us the DUP position supports ‘properly and fully leaving the EU customs union’,” he said.

Mr Eastwood added that all parties must work towards an Irish solution to Brexit.

“That means a deal which serves the unique circumstances on this island and a deal which protects the free movement of people and business across Ireland and into the EU.”

Mr Paisley said yesterday his party wants out of the EU customs union as part of “hard” Brexit.

He said the DUP will not countenance a “soft” Brexit.