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  1. ITV Report

Stormont: Talks to continue through the weekend as fourth deadline passes

Talks look set to continue over the weekend as Northern Ireland's political leaders missed today's 4pm deadline to restore powersharing at Stormont.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has told the five main Stormont parties he will reflect on the situation over the weekend, allowing further talks in the interim, it is understood.

He will make a statement at Westminster on Monday outlining his plan.

Three options open to Mr Brokenshire:

  • set a fifth deadline for the talks process
  • call another snap Assembly election
  • reimpose some form of direct rule from London
Senior DUP representative and former Stormont executive minister Simon Hamilton (centre) Credit: PA

The Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, the two parties whose agreement is required to form a new administration, have accused each other of refusing to give ground on key issues.

Sinn Fein's demand for an Irish Language Act, which would bestow official protections for Gaelic speakers, appears to be a sticking point.

The DUP is willing to legislate on the language issue, but only if Ulster Scots speakers are included in any Act, a condition Sinn Fein has rejected.

Senior DUP negotiator Edwin Poots said if a deal did not materialise in the near future he would prefer direct rule ministers to take over running Stormont departments.

He said: "The talks are continuing, obviously there is not going to be a breakthrough that would lead to nominations taking place today.

"At this stage we aren't close to an agreement, there is considerable work to be done and we believe the ball is in the court of Sinn Fein in the main in dealing with a series of outstanding issues."

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However, Sinn Fein insisted the DUP had to move, claiming it was "make your mind up time" for the unionists.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said "limited progress" had been made to bridge the gaps.

He said: "We have always said this can be done in a matter of hours, the issues are very clear, there are still gaps in terms of trying to establish a rights-based approach to these institutions working, as per the Good Friday Agreement.

"We want to close those gaps. There has been some limited progress in closing those gaps. We want to get this done, we want to get it done quickly and on a sustainable basis."

Earlier, Mr Brokenshire and Dublin's Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney insisted a deal was "possible and achievable".

Delivering a joint statement at the talks venue at Stormont Castle, they gave no firm indication on the way ahead once the deadline passed.

Stormont in Belfast Credit: PA

Mr Brokenshire said a number of issues remain outstanding.

"I believe a resolution can be found," he said.

"And I'm urging the parties to continue focusing all of their efforts on achieving this.

"The UK Government will work with the parties toward their critical objective of forming an executive.

"But I've made clear to party leaders that it is for them to reach agreement."

Mr Brokenshire added: "That prize remains achievable and remains my focus."

Mr Coveney said the last three days of talks had been intensive and he was encouraged by the discussions.