Northern Ireland

Talks delayed as NI Secretary remains in London for Brexit meeting

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
Image caption With no ministers in place, civil servants have been making the decisions on running public services

All-party talks aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland executive at Stormont have been delayed.

Discussions that were due to take place on Thursday have now been postponed until Friday.

The BBC understands NI Secretary of State Karen Bradley has remained in London for a cabinet meeting on Brexit.

The smaller parties have said they are being kept in the dark about any progress, and they want this to change.

Image caption SDLP leader Colum Eastwood says his priority is "getting a deal so that the public sector can get on with doing its job"

The SDLP has warned it will not take part in a "pretend process" after the latest round of all party talks was postponed.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party will not be back until there is an inclusive process.

"For the first time in over a decade we are now powerless, after having spent decades trying to get power sharing in Northern Ireland.

"We want to see all-party talks, we want to see inclusive talks, we haven't seen that yet," he added.

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said she was "frustrated" and that the talks postponement reinforced her party's previous call that an "independent facilitator" was needed.

"Someone who will be here day and night to meet with the parties to hammer out this deal," she told BBC Radio Ulster.

"We will be there tomorrow, we will be as robust and constructive and engaging as we always are, but we share the frustration right across the board on this."

Last month, the head of the civil service in Northern Ireland, David Sterling, told Northern Ireland Affairs Committee MPs there needs to be clarity about a budget by 8 February.

Ms Bradshaw said her party would "reluctantly" be calling on the Secretary of State to bring forward a budget.

"It is not fair on those people who are trying to bring forward public services into the next financial year, it is not fair on the community and voluntary sector who are reliant on grant funding from 1 April," she added.

"It is not a very pleasant picture, regardless of who brings forward the budget."

Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing government for a year, after a coalition led by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin collapsed.

Sinn Féin and the DUP have failed to find a resolution despite several rounds of talks.

Mrs Bradley, who was appointed to the post in January, has said "time is short" but there is one last opportunity to restore the executive.

She also said the DUP and Sinn Féin came close to a deal last year.

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