SDLP wants DUP and Sinn Fein Stormont talk 'compromises' made public
Details of powersharing compromises allegedly conceded by the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein must be made public, the SDLP leader has said.
On the first day of last-ditch talks to save the crisis-hit institutions, Colum Eastwood said the UK and Irish governments had told him Stormont's two main parties had given significant ground on key sticking points last November and were very close to a deal.
He said it was time for the DUP and Sinn Fein to stop pretending to the public they had not shifted their negotiation positions.
"We are not interested in propping up a farce and it's about time we began to be honest with the public because the two governments have both confirmed to us today what we all already know - that last November both the DUP and Sinn Fein compromised significantly, compromised significantly, and they are denying that truth to the public," he said.
"Why they are doing that I cannot understand."
He added: "Stop trying to pretend to the public that nobody has moved and nobody has compromised."
The first days of the latest round of negotiations saw Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Irish deputy premier and foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney meet with the five main Stormont parties.
The DUP and Sinn Fein met with both government ministers together.
More than a year since the institutions imploded, and with financial pressures mounting on the region's rudderless public services, the UK Government has characterised the initiative as a final opportunity to salvage the devolved institutions.
The DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition crashed down amid a row over a botched green energy scheme but the rift between the two largest parties subsequently widened to take in more longstanding cultural and legacy disputes.
Proposals to protect Irish language speakers, the ban on same-sex marriage and a lack of consensus on how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles remain key areas of disagreement.
A series of rounds of talks over the last 12 months have failed, with deadline after deadline set by the UK Government falling by the wayside.
Faltering exchanges last autumn were confined to behind-closed-doors discussions solely involving the DUP and Sinn Fein. Mr Eastwood claimed those discussions saw both parties offer major compromises.
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said his party held a forthright and honest meeting with Mrs Bradley on Wednesday, during which they stressed the need for an inclusive process.
"We won't simply be here as window dressing," he said.
Mr Swann also called for clarity on progress made during previous negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
"We see no point in joining a process to rehearse or regurgitate arguments and discussions that have already been," he said.
"We need to see the baselines. There is no point going in and wasting another week and a half establishing or regurgitating arguments that have already been had."
With the region having no local ministers to agree a budget for the next financial year, the UK Government will face increased pressure to reintroduce a form of Westminster direct rule if the latest talks bid fails.
Mrs Bradley is due to update the House of Commons on the state of play on February 7.
She has insisted this is not a deadline, rather a "milestone".
David Sterling, the senior civil servant who has been running Stormont in the absence of ministers, told a Westminster committee on Wednesday that "budget certainty" for the next financial year must be secured by February 8.