Three years to the day from when Stormont was collapsed, Northern Ireland’s political parties were due to reconvene this morning to be presented with a potential framework for a deal by the Irish and British governments.
Pressure is mounting on the Northern Ireland parties to reach a deal by Monday, January 13th or risk the Secretary of State Julian Smith calling an Assembly election if no breakthrough is achieved.
Together with the Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Julian Smith is expected to present the five main parties - the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and UUP with a draft deal today.
The results of the recent Westminster election has brought renewed impetus to the talks, with the Tory majority ending the supply and confidence arrangement with the DUP, and growing anger among the public about the impact three years of stalemate is having on people’s lives, services, and crucial decisions are being postponed.
The massive waiting lists and lack of staff in the heath sector, a funding crisis in education, and the looming threat of the five-year Welfare Reform cuts mitigation package running out in March and Brexit are among the chief issues exercising minds over recent days and months.
Locally the delays to establishing the Medical School and the wider Magee expansion, lack of jobs and investment in infrastructure such as the Buncrana Road dualling project, have also been hot topics.
The banner heading previous ‘red line’ issues such as the Irish Language Act, rights and the Petition of Concern are also being discussed.
Sinn Féin in a Tweet yesterday, in a message of solidarity with striking nurses, said that they have “placed achieving pay parity, safe staffing and increased investment in health and public services at the core of negotiations”.
Last week meanwhile Arlene Foster said that the Assembly “must be restored on a sustainable basis”, adding:
“Whether you’re British, Irish or N Irish, you should all feel at home in NI. No identity should be elevated above the other. We want a fair and balanced deal.”
Recently elected Foyle SDLP MP Colum Eastwood MP meanwhile said last week that the political will exists to secure a deal to restore power sharing government.
The Foyle MP said that it’s time for politicians to get back to work. “It has always been the case over the last three years that a deal to restore power sharing government in Northern Ireland could be done within a matter of hours. The political will now exists to secure a deal, it’s important that parties work intensively to get this over the line.
“The SDLP has worked hard with other parties to deliver proposals which we believe will unlock the impasse by reforming the Petition of Concern to make it a human rights compliant instrument. We are prepared to stretch ourselves to reach a consensus that delivers inclusive power sharing institutions.”