Updated: 04/07/17 : 12:17:23
Printable Version   Bookmark and Share Share This

national

Coming hours is 'make or break' in northern talks says Coveney

A breakthrough in power-sharing talks in Northern Ireland must come today or the institutions are set to remain in cold storage over the summer, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has warned.

RTÉ reports that Mr Coveney suggested the coming hours at Stormont Castle would be make or break in terms of a restoration of devolution in the short term.

While MLAs have not been sitting in Parliament Buildings since March's snap election, the Assembly's official summer recess starts on Friday.

Next week will also witness the "Twelfth of July" - the key fixture in the Protestant loyal order marching season.

Negotiations are unlikely to succeed against the backdrop of the heightened community tensions that traditionally surround the Orange Order commemorations.

Yesterday, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said he felt a power-sharing executive could still be established this week.

His optimism was not shared by the parties at Stormont, with the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin continuing to blame each other for the impasse.

Sticking points include the shape of legislation to protect Irish language speakers, the DUP's opposition to lifting the region's ban on same-sex marriage, and mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

Mr Brokenshire told the House of Commons yesterday that the UK government remained focused over the "crucial days ahead" on establishing a coalition executive, despite a deadline for agreement lapsing last week.

Mr Brokenshire's warning of "profound and serious implications" if Thursday's deadline was missed prompted speculation that he could call another snap election or impose some form of direct rule from Westminster.

But he instead opted to give the talks a few more days.

While he did not set a new deadline, four have already passed, Mr Brokenshire warned he would soon have to step in to pass a Stormont budget.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has claimed Sinn Féin is more concerned with adding to its "shopping list" of demands rather than seeking compromises to restore power-sharing .

Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill insisted all her party was seeking was "basic rights".

"If that's a shopping list then I am very proud of that shopping list - because it's about delivering people their rights," she said.

The devolved institutions imploded in January when Mrs Foster was forced from office after Sinn Féin's then deputy first minister, the late Martin McGuinness, quit.

That was in protest at the DUP's handling of the renewable heat incentive, a botched scheme that left the administration facing a £490m overspend.

Mr McGuinness's move triggered March's snap Assembly poll and subsequent months of faltering negotiations to restore a devolved government.