Stormont talks entering "critical phase" as deadline looms

The Foreign Affairs Minister says it should become clear by this evening whether a deal can be reached

Stormont talks entering "critical phase" as deadline looms

Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan with Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire at Stormont, 19-03-2017. Image: PA/PA Wire/PA Images

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has said it should become clear by tonight whether a deal can reached on forming a new power-sharing executive in the North.

Speaking this afternoon, Charlie Flanagan said he was encouraged by movement in the negotiations - but warned he is not underestimating the challenge ahead.

Northern Ireland’s political leaders have until Monday to reach a deal or risk a return to direct rule from London.

Minister Flanagan told reporters today that there has been progress over the last few hours.

“I expect that issues upon which agreement hasn’t been reached will move towards agreement now as we enter the critical phase of Friday afternoon, Friday evening, over the weekend,” he said.

“I think it is important that we will have a clear picture by close of business this evening.”

A number of controversial issues remain to be resolved - including dealing with the past.

Minister Flanagan said he was particularly encouraged by negotiations on the legacy issues that have remained for “victims, survivors, families, communities and people” affected by violence across Northern Ireland.

Stormont’s new First Minister and Deputy First Minister must be nominated by Monday at 4pm.

Failure to reach an agreement would see the announcement of a new election.

There is speculation however that Westminster’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire will push for a delay to allow more time for negotiations or perhaps look to reintroduce direct rule from London.

Both options would require legislation from the British government.

Speaking this morning, Mr Brokenshire said time is short – but insisted a deal remains achievable.

"We are now entering the final few days available to political parties here in Northern Ireland to form an Executive,” he said.

"There are a number of issues where I see common ground and I firmly believe resolution can be achieved.

“There are also other issues that still remain to be resolved in order for an Executive to be formed on Monday."

He said politicians have a duty to survivors and victims of violence during the Troubles, “to come forward with proposals to deal with the past.”

Death of Martin McGuinness

Fresh elections were called in the North after former Deputy First Minster Martin McGuinness resigned in protest over the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) handling of the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal.

 

Earlier this week, Mr McGuinness passed away at the age of 66 following a short illness.

His funeral yesterday March 23rd was attended by international dignitaries and politicians from across the political divide.

Speaking at the funeral in Saint Columba's Church in Derry, Former US President Bill Clinton said the best tribute to the former Deputy First Minister would be to continue working towards peace and reconciliation in the North.

 

Election results

Former Stormont Health Minister Michelle O'Neill was named Mr McGuinness' replacement as leader of Sinn Féin in the North at the end of January.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and DUP Leader Arlene Foster at UTV Studios at Havlock House in Belfast, 16-02-2017. Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

Ms O'Neill led the party to its best performance in Northern Ireland’s election history at the start of March – cutting the DUPs 10-seat advantage to one:

  • DUP – 28 seats
  • Sinn Féin – 27 seats
  • SDLP – 12 seats
  • UUP – 10 seats
  • Alliance Party – 8 seats
  • Green Party – 2 seats
  • People Before Profit – 1 seat
  • Traditional Unionist Voice – 1 seat
  • Independent – 1 seat

Arlene Foster's decision to attend Mr McGuinness' funeral yesterday will lead to fresh hopes the differences between the main parties can be overcome - and a deal reached before Monday's 4pm deadline.