Political parties await outcome of DUP crunch meetings as powersharing deal speculation intensifies

Northern Ireland's political parties are awaiting the outcome of the DUP crunch meeting on Monday as its party leader briefs senior members on Government proposals aimed at ending Stormont’s powersharing impasse.

The invitation said the gathering, at a yet undisclosed location in Northern Ireland, would see party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson provide a “detailed update on the current political situation”. If Sir Jeffrey presses for an acceptance of the Government’s proposals and a Stormont return, he is expected to face stiff opposition from some unionists, both inside and outside his party. They believe the boycott should only end once all the economic barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, and the subsequent Windsor Framework, are removed.

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy told UTV that the 'vast majority of the public' wanted the DUP to re-enter the Stormont institutions.

"What we've been pressing the DUP to do for almost two years now and that is get back round an Executive table with the rest of us.

"While they have indulged themselves in this two way negotiation with the British Government and since the late autumn, endless engagements internally within the DUP, the reality is that public services have continued to crumble, public sector workers are continuing to wait on fair pay, and decisions are mounting up that need an Executive to be in place and the British Government are about to set another budget for us, which will probably be equally as damaging as the budget they set last year.

"So we really want the DUP - whatever their internal mechanisms are for dialogue - the vast majority of the public, and particularly those who rely on public services and work in public services - to get on and make a decision and get back to work with the rest of us."

Alliance Party MLA Nuala McAllister told assembled media at Stormont she hoped the party can 'do the right thing'.

"I think when we look at the narrative that is out there at the minute from the DUP representatives, including the leader, the tone is changing.

"What I would say to the DUP is that now is the time to make decisions for all of Northern Ireland.

"I am more hopeful today, I just hope the DUP can do the right thing."

The DUP has been involved in protracted talks with the Government aimed at securing concessions on the arrangements that would address its concerns around trade and sovereignty.

The party has been using a veto power to blockade Stormont‘s devolved institutions for two years in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements that have created trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

While the mooted deal being offered by the Government will seek to reduce red tape associated with arrangements, and offer additional measures aimed at strengthening GB-NI ties, they will not result in the axing of the EU and UK’s jointly agreed protocol and framework.

UUP Leader Doug Beattie called on the Government to brief political leaders on the contents of any deal, saying his party has been 'kept in the dark'.

"As the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party - a party that is entitled to go into the Executive - we have not been briefed on the deal.

"We've been kept in the dark and that is not a good place to be.

"The best way to make Northern Ireland work, to make powersharing work, is to make sure all the parties know what is happening and where I've given time and space to the UK Government, to the Northern Ireland Office, to the DUP to go through their negotiations, I cannot sit by and watch unelected representatives be briefed in detail about a deal, while my elected representatives are being kept in the dark.

The TUV Leader has said if the DUP make a return to the Stormont Executive it would be 'a point of no return'.

Speaking to the media at Stormont on Monday, Jim Allister said: "Having stood on so many platforms with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, opposing and repudiating the protocol, it will be a moment of not just great sadness, but much more than that. "If, after all that, Sir Jeffrey and his party were to become protocol implementers, it would be a point of no return."

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