Frustration as powersharing proposals yet to be shared with smaller parties
Stormont’s smaller parties have expressed frustration at delays accessing UK and Irish government proposals to restore devolution.
The governments presented their suggested outline of a draft deal to the region’s two largest parties – Sinn Fein and the DUP – on Wednesday.
The move prompted hours of late night negotiations involving the parties and the governments – exchanges that resumed on Thursday morning.
While the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance were told to come to Stormont House on Wednesday afternoon for their own briefings, 24 hours later those meetings had yet to happen.
There were conflicting reports as to whether the parties would finally get sight of the proposals on Thursday evening
Earlier, DUP Assembly members and MPs met at Stormont to discuss the proposals on the table.
Party MLA Kellie Armstrong said the stakes were high.
“If we fail at this point it would be unforgiveable,” she said.
“Time is running out and that is why I say I am optimistic a deal will be done because to not do it is unforgiveable.”
On Thursday afternoon SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said: “We are frustrated and our frustration is growing that we have as yet not seen text.
“We have pressed on the Government that we need to see that text today.”
She insisted her party would not be “bounced” into making a quick decision on the text when they did finally see it.
Parties are working to a Monday deadline to restore the institutions.
Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said the talks had reached a critical juncture.
“There is a time to negotiate and there is a time to decide – this is the time to decide,” he said.
“We as the Ulster Unionists have a problem about making a decision, we haven’t even had a briefing on the paper, never mind sight of the proposed resolution to what is going on.”
The developments came on the third anniversary of the late deputy first minister Martin McGuinness’s resignation – a move that triggered the collapse of the devolved institutions at Stormont.
Three years on, the DUP and Sinn Fein – parties whose buy-in is necessary for a new mandatory coalition government – are still at odds on issues such as Irish language legislation and reform of Assembly voting practices.
A DUP source downplayed the prospect of a breakthrough on Thursday.
He added: “The parties have a lot of work to get through.”
Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said her party was at Stormont to “do the business”.
She added: “Our determination is to make politics work. It is going to take all of the parties to make the politics work.
“It is going to need to be a sustainable and credible government. It is going to need to be a government that actually has equality at its core.”
On Monday, legislation to give civil servants extra powers to run the region’s troubled public services expires and the UK Government assumes a legal duty to call a fresh Assembly election.