Latest: Stormont: talks adjourned to resume in the morning

Update - 11.50pm: The talks have been adjourned, with discussions due to resume on Wednesday morning.

Update 10.20pm: Talks to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland are extending into the night with little sign of Sinn Fein and Democratic Unionists striking a deal.

The mood was downbeat on Tuesday evening after the republican party accused the DUP of refusing to budge on any of the substantive issues at the heart of powersharing crisis.

But Sinn Fein party chair Declan Kearney did hint movement was possible on one precondition, its opposition to DUP leader Arlene Foster returning as Stormont first minister, if the DUP gave ground on other matters.

For its part, the DUP urged Sinn Fein to stop indulging in "hire wire acts" and get down to the job of delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.

DUP negotiator Edwin Poots suggested a "parallel process" could be initiated where a coalition executive is formed while talks on the outstanding issues continued.

Impasses include Sinn Fein’s demand for legislative protections for Irish language speakers and the question of whether Mrs Foster can return to the first minister’s office while a public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme is ongoing.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire warned that time was running short to strike a deal.

The parties have until 4pm on Thursday to restore a devolved executive or Northern Ireland faces the prospect of a return of direct rule from London. 

Update 9.20pm:  The British Secretary of State has said this evening that the Stormont talks are entering a critical phase.

James Brokenshire urged parties to look beyond what divides them and to what the people of Northern Ireland want to see, "the restoration of an inclusive power sharing executive that will serve all the community."

Update 7.55pm: DUP negotiator Edwin Poots has urged Sinn Fein not to engage in "high wire acts" and suggested a "parallel process" could be initiated where an executive is formed while talks on the outstanding issues continued.

Mr Poots said negotiations were ongoing and ws responding to Sinn Fein claims that party were unwilling to budge on the substantive issues. 

"I can’t say they are easy but nonetheless we want to get Stormont up and running and we can get it up and running straight away and distribute the money our DUP have successfully received from the UK government," he said.

"We believe we need to be respectful of all cultures and all traditions across Northern Ireland and are working hard to find a means through that and ensure that we can continue to deliver.

"I would encourage Sinn Fein to be mature, no high wire acts, let’s get down to work, knuckle down and find a way through this and it is possible if people apply themselves."

He made his comments as he British Prime Minister reiterated that the United Kingdom remains steadfast to their commitments as set out in the Belfast Agreement and its successors and in governing in the interests of all parts of the community in Northern Ireland.

Theresa May made the pledge in a telephone conversation with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar earlier this evening.

A No 10 spokesman said the two leaders confirmed their joint commitment to restore a Northern Ireland Executive as soon as possible and agreed to engage closely, and work with the parties in Northern Ireland, to bring back political stability and a strong voice at Stormont. 

Update 6:19pm: Sinn Fein has accused the Democratic Unionists of refusing to budge on any of the substantive issues at the heart of Stormont’s powersharing crisis.

Delivering a bleak assessment of the negotiations to restore devolution in Northern Ireland, party chairman Declan Kearney hinted Sinn Fein could drop its opposition to DUP leader Arlene Foster returning as Stormont first minister if the DUP gave ground on other disputes.

Mr Kearney claimed the DUP was not prepared to move on republican demands for a stand-alone Irish Language Act, the introduction of same sex marriage in Northern Ireland and the introduction of a specific bill of rights for the region.

His comments came after Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire warned that time was running short to strike a deal.

The parties have until 4pm on Thursday to restore a devolved executive or Northern Ireland faces the prospect of a return of direct rule from London.

Mr Kearney said: "The DUP have not moved on any of the substantive issue which sit at the heart of this crisis.

"They haven’t moved on any of the fundamental rights and equality issues that require to be embraced."

Asked if Sinn Fein was prepared to drop its opposition to Mrs Foster returning as first minister while a public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme is ongoing, Mr Kearney again stressed the urgent need was to address the "rights and equality" issues.

But he added: "In those circumstances if in fact we can find resolution and progress on all of the fundamental issues then we can address the issue of the future role of the DUP leader in a possible future executive but at this point that question is academic."

Mr Brokenshire claimed intensive engagement was continuing inside Stormont Castle, with the parties focusing on differences over equality and language issues.

"Time is marching on," he said.

"It is about now reaching that conclusion, meeting that statutory deadline of Thursday afternoon and finding a way through in the best interests of Northern Ireland."

Earlier: Tuesday is a key day in negotiations involving the five main Northern Ireland parties and the UK and Irish governments, with the outcome hinging on whether the two biggest parties - the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein - can resolve their differences.

Both parties were involved in late-night discussions at Stormont Castle on Monday.

The deadline for an agreement to establish a new coalition ministerial Executive is Thursday, when the devolved Assembly in Belfast is scheduled to sit to nominate ministers.

Outstanding issues include Sinn Fein’s demand for legislative protections for Irish language speakers and the party’s insistence that DUP leader Arlene Foster cannot return as First Minister while a public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme is ongoing.

Mrs Foster was forced from office in January when Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister, the late Martin McGuinness, quit in protest at the DUP’s handling of the ill-fated Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

His move triggered a snap Assembly election in March. A number of attempts to restore powersharing in the wake of that poll floundered, with three UK Government deadlines for a deal having already been missed.

Civil servants have been running Stormont departments since March.

While the peace process is littered with examples of apparently firm political deadlines being broken, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has insisted Thursday’s 4pm cut-off point is immovable.

A form of direct rule from London is likely to be reimposed in lieu of a deal.

It remains unclear what impact the DUP’s Westminster parliamentary deal with the Conservative Party will have on efforts to restore powersharing.

While rival Stormont parties have largely welcomed the additional £1 billion investment flowing from the confidence and supply agreement, concerns have been raised as to whether the UK Government has fatally compromised its stated commitment to impartiality in its dealings with Northern Ireland parties.

Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd said he is not sure whether a deal can be struck.

"I am an optimist and a realist," he told BBC Radio Ulster. "When there is talking going on, there is always hope."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has made clear his party has no "red lines" and said he wants to see an Executive up and running.

Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney has said the "heavy lifting" needs to be done on Tuesday.

She will do so in the knowledge that having parked her referendum for now, she can return to it after Brexit, and before the end of the parliamentary term at Holyrood.


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