Northern Ireland

Stormont talks: Sinn Féin and DUP take different view on process

Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin MLA
Image caption Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy told a press conference talks have "effectively been stalled" for the Twelfth of July marching season

The political rumour mill has been in overdrive at Stormont this week.

First, there was renewed speculation that talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland, now in their ninth week, could be paused for the summer.

Then, the talk was that Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, might make some sort of announcement about it during questions in the Commons on Wednesday morning.

None of the rumours have led to anything so far.

Narratives emerging

So what is going on? Even journalists have been scratching their heads trying to figure it out.

But there are several narratives emerging.

Compare and contrast the following.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy stated at a press conference that, in his party's view, the talks have "effectively been stalled" to facilitate the Twelfth of July marching season.

"It is our assessment that progress has been stalled and that nothing will happen for the next two weeks," he added.

Hours later, the DUP's Gavin Robinson took a different view and accused Sinn Féin of using the Twelfth as "cover" for a lack of engagement in the talks process.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Stormont sources have said talks may lull over the Twelfth but are not likely to halt

He said Sinn Féin had failed to send any negotiators to the talks on Tuesday or Wednesday, and said it was misleading to say things were being stalled because of the upcoming Orange Order marches.

The DUP did not suggest talks have been stalled, but rather blamed the lack of progress on Sinn Féin not wanting to engage.

The Northern Ireland Office takes a totally different view - it says talks are continuing.

Meanwhile, Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said his party, the UUP and SDLP did meet for "productive talks" on Wednesday afternoon.

Confused so far?

Other Stormont sources say they think it is likely talks might lull over the Twelfth - no official halt, but perhaps a bit of "thinking time" for the parties to decide whether they want to continue discussions.

Possible elections

Depending on who you talk to, some talks insiders are optimistic there could yet be a breakthrough - others say nothing has changed and they are concerned that the next few months will only make achieving any progress more difficult.

Image caption Sinn Féin are using the Twelfth as a cover for not participating in talks, Gavin Robinson has said

A new prime minister, possibly a new Northern Ireland secretary, the small matter of resolving Brexit and the findings of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry are coming down the tracks.

One thing we do know is that the Northern Ireland Office will likely have to extend its legal power to delay Karen Bradley - or her successor's obligation - to call a fresh assembly election.

That legislation is due to expire on 25 August.

Parliament is due to rise for recess on 25 July, a day after the new prime minister is in place.

It had been thought the NIO would need to take action on a further delay before recess, in case a deal to restore Stormont was not in place by the time the current legislation expires next month.

When Mrs Bradley first extended the legislation in March, she told MPs she did not want to do so - but that it would give the Stormont parties "more time and space" to try and reach a deal to end more than two years of political deadlock.

But, away from the hill, many people have long lost patience, and may now question how much more time and space should be given to a process that seems to be going nowhere fast.

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