NI talks: DUP rules out pre-Christmas Stormont deal

  • By Gareth Gordon
  • BBC News NI political correspondent

Image caption,

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said at the weekend that the DUP would not be distracted by calendar-led initiatives

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has ruled out the prospect of a deal to restore devolution in Northern Ireland before Christmas, the BBC understands.

The government was hoping an agreement on power-sharing could be reached before parliamentary recess on Tuesday.

But a DUP spokesperson said the party would not be “calendar-led” in its negotiations.

It is the biggest unionist party in Northern Ireland and the second biggest party at Stormont, behind Sinn Féin.

But the DUP’s position is that the process is not yet complete.

It is also understood the party’s assembly members (MLAs) are not meeting later as they normally do on Mondays.

Image caption,

The posters were erected outside the DUP constituency office of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who is the MP for Lagan Valley

Stormont finance package

Talks about a financial offer of £2.5bn from the UK government should Stormont return are due to resume at Hillsborough Castle later.

The talks will be hosted by Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris and will be attended by the four parties eligible to form a power-sharing government if it is restored – Sinn Féin, the DUP, Alliance and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

The money on offer includes a lump sum to settle public sector pay claims and a new “needs-based” funding formula for public services.

Transport staff, teachers and health care workers have all staged strikes in recent months over pay, causing widespread disruption across Northern Ireland.

Stormont departments say they cannot settle pay disputes because of budget pressures.

Party leaders in Northern Ireland have agreed that the current financial offer from the UK government is not enough.

Mr Heaton-Harris said he was prepared to go back to the prime minister and see what more is possible.

Image source, HOLLIE ADAMS/Reuters

Image caption,

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is hosting Monday’s talks

The DUP has been urged by other parties not to hold up a potential return to Stormont and to “seize the opportunity” to restore devolution.

Sinn Féin’s John Finucane said striking public sector workers were “surrounded by uncertainty” over their finances at Christmas and many other people were struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.

On Saturday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told party members that he would not be “distracted by hype” over a deal.

Writing in an email, he said the financial package did “not deal with our long-term challenges” and that he was hopeful the government would “advance on their offer on Monday”.

What has the DUP asked for?

The DUP pulled its first minister out of Stormont’s power-sharing executive in February 2022 in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The protocol was introduced post-Brexit to prevent the need for goods checks along the border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, which is still an EU member state.

Earlier this year, the trade rules contained in the protocol were eased by the Windsor Framework – a new deal negotiated by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with the EU.

The DUP has been in closed talks with the government for months over further changes it wants to the framework.

The party believes the current rules, which include additional checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, are damaging to the economy and undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

Last week, Mr Sunak said the government stood ready to legislate to “protect” Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.


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