Stormont talks to be suspended as process grinds to a halt

Level of disagreement means there is little chance of a deal before end of summer

Sinn Féin expects the Stormont talks deadline to be extended until the autumn. Photograph: Reuters

Sinn Féin expects the Stormont talks deadline to be extended until the autumn. Photograph: Reuters

 

There was an acknowledgment at Stormont on Tuesday afternoon that the Stormont talks process has ground to a halt and now will be “parked” until the early autumn.

Sinn Féin sources said they expected the British and Irish governments to suspend the negotiations with a view to the parties returning to talks in a number of months.

The sources said that such was the level of disagreement that there appeared to be little prospect of a deal before the end of the summer.

The Northern Secretary James Brokenshire returned to Stormont for more talks on Tuesday morning after telling MPs in the House of Commons on Monday that a deal was achievable this week.

He was joined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in the morning. Mr Coveney was due to make a statement to the media at 11.30am but this cancelled to allow the talks continue.

Before lunchtime however Sinn Féin sources said there was little prospect of a deal this week. It is understood that Mr Coveney has now left Stormont for a separate engagement.

It also is expected that the British and Irish governments will make a statement, possibly later today, acknowledging the failure of this latest round of talks.

In terms of what happens next Mr Brokenshire has three options: to call Assembly elections; introduce direct rule from Westminster; or to extend the deadline for a deal into the early autumn or late summer.

Sinn Féin appeared convinced that he will allow more time for talks in September or possibly in late August.

If this happens senior civil servants rather than British direct rule Ministers will continue to administer public affairs in Northern Ireland.

Civil servants have been in charge since January when the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister over the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme debacle, although up until the Assembly elections of March the executive ministers had some circumscribed powers.

While Mr Brokenshire may be reluctant to introduce direct rule at this stage he nonetheless should be obliged to introduce legislation at Westminster to allow the civil servants have a budget to pay for services.