Stormont talks likely to conclude next week, says Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill

Crisis talks aimed at restoring the powersharing government at Stormont are likely to draw to a close next week, Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill has said.

Speaking at a special Ard Fheis in Dublin on Saturday, where she was ratified as deputy leader of Sinn Fein alongside new party president Mary Lou McDonald, Ms O'Neill said differences remained between the republican party and the DUP, but insisted that they could be resolved.

Northern Ireland has been without an executive for more than a year following a row between former powersharing partners Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Substantive negotiations between both parties have so far failed to resolve the dispute.

Sinn Fein's newly elected president Mary Lou McDonald and vice president Michelle O'Neill at the RDS in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Sinn Fein's newly elected president Mary Lou McDonald and vice president Michelle O'Neill at the RDS in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

However, the parties are set to meet again on Monday to try to strike a deal.

Ms O'Neill said: "As in any negotiation, there has been give and take and at this point we have not yet resolved or overcome all our differences to satisfaction.

"There is no doubt that progress has been made, but there are outstanding issues which remain unresolved."

She added: "We will continue to meet with the DUP and both governments and will re-engage on Monday and I anticipate that talks will conclude next week.

"I believe that the issues which caused the collapse of Stormont can be resolved with political will and mutual respect."

Mrs McDonald, who has replaced Gerry Adams as Sinn Fein leader, insisted the party was "up for a deal".

Mary Lou McDonald acknowledges the applause of delegates as she is elected as Sinn Fein's president at the party's special conference at the RDS in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Mary Lou McDonald acknowledges the applause of delegates as she is elected as Sinn Fein's president at the party's special conference at the RDS in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

She added: "We are committed to real powersharing, to working for agreement with our Unionist partners.

"We want the Executive and Assembly up and running. This can only happen on the basis of equality, respect and integrity for all.

"The talks are ongoing. The Sinn Fein team is committed to a positive outcome.

"As Uachtaran Shinn Fein (party president), I look forward to working with the DUP and with the other parties in the North.

"Martin McGuinness said there would be no return to the status quo. Martin, there will be no return to the status quo."

The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition imploded last January amid a row over a botched green energy scheme.

That rift subsequently widened to take in long-running disputes over culture, social issues and legacy.

The main sticking point preventing the restoration of an executive is the Irish language.

Sinn Fein wants a standalone piece of legislation to protect speakers - an Irish Language Act - but the DUP has long insisted it would only countenance new laws if they also incorporate other cultures, such as Ulster Scots.

Finding a compromise resolution to the thorny language dispute that will satisfy both parties is key to unlocking the Stormont deadlock.

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