Deadline looms for Stormont negotiations

Politicians in Northern Ireland's have just hours left to reach a deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont, before the UK government presses ahead with legislation to approve a budget.

The parties have been warned they must reach agreement by the end of the day or else Northern Secretary James Brokenshire will be forced to introduce a budget via Westminster - writes

Talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin paused for the weekend, without an agreement being reached .

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said that if a deal is not reached by today's deadline, his party will not accept direct rule from Westminster but only joint rule from both Dublin and London.

He said: "As I set out in January this year, I want to again make clear that a return to direct rule from London is wholly unacceptable.

"It would be a significant and serious breach of our political accommodation in the North and therefore must not be the automatic and the only fall-back option."

Mr Eastwood added: "In the absence of an executive and assembly, giving representation to the North's two traditions falls on both the Irish and British Governments.

"Maintaining that balance means that the alternative to direct rule is the joint stewardship of the North by the two governments."

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry called on Mr Brokenshire to explore other options before direct rule is introduced, including the possibility of a voluntary coalition government at Stormont and reform of institutions including the petition of concern veto mechanism which has been controversial in recent years.

Dr Farry said: "Power-sharing devolution is vital to local democracy and representative decision-making, facilitating reconciliation and providing a coherent regional voice in critical matters such as Brexit.

"The gains of recent decades have been hard won and should not be discarded without exploring all of the options and alternatives."

Northern Ireland has been without a government since January, when Sinn Féin pulled out of power-sharing with their counterparts in the DUP.

The late Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin had cited concerns over the DUP's handling of a botched renewable energy scheme.

Since then, the parties have not been able to reach an agreement to return to Stormont, despite multiple rounds of negotiations and deadlines.

A number of issues have emerged between the DUP and Sinn Féin around language and culture.

Read more news of Dublin on our site.
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