DUP insider plays down prospect of a breakthrough at Leeds Castle

Well-placed unionist sources have played down prospects of a major political breakthrough at this week’s crunch Leeds Castle negotiations.

With the UUP leadership said to be "not hopeful", a senior DUP source has told the Andersonstown News that the talks – if successful – will be "nothing more than a staging post".

"If these talks are successful, they will simply mark a base camp before the long walk up to the summit over the next year," said our source.

The DUP insider said that there have been "nothing more than nods and winks from republicans" and added that significant action to disband the IRA is a prerequisite for any movement.

However, reacting to the comments, a senior Irish government source yesterday said, "in the immortal words of Mandy-Rice Davies, they would say that, wouldn’t they?"

"We’re still playing it on the basis that we want an all-encompassing agreement,” he said.

"People are going to set out negotiating positions beforehand, but over the next week we’ll just have to find out the colour of their money.

"Obviously the person we have to get on board is Paisley.
“Hopefully we can do that, but it is no easy task."

There was doubt last night over whether the DUP leader would be travelling to Leeds Castle – but regardless of whether he’s there or not, no agreement will be forged without his imprimatur.

The Irish government source said that "the DUP accept devolution of policing and justice and maybe even further devolution down the line".

"To a large extent there’s not a huge difference over devolution except in terms of timing and mechanisms, but I think they’re soluble."

Crucially, the source quashed any suggestion that the "blocking minority" of 34 DUP Assembly members will succeed in "redefining the Assembly" as established under the Good Friday Agreement.

The SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, has also warned against any attempts this week to change the mechanisms of the Good Friday Agreement – specifically unionist attempts to introduce ‘dual consent’ requirements into any future border poll.

"The Good Friday Agreement was crystal clear - and so is the SDLP - on the constitutional status of the North and how a united Ireland could be achieved,” said Mr Durkan.

"The Agreement is explicit: if a majority in the north of Ireland vote for a united Ireland, it must come about if the south agrees.

"We are totally opposed to the suggestion from Jeffrey Donaldson that the consent of the unionists is required for a united Ireland.

"If the unionists can accept that a majority is enough to keep the North in the UK, they also have to accept that the vote of a majority is enough to bring about a united Ireland," said Mr Durkan.

Speaking in Dublin on Saturday following intensive negotiations between Sinn Féin and officials from both governments, Mitchel McLaughlin placed the focus of this week’s talks firmly on the DUP.

"The real issue is whether or not the DUP are capable of doing a deal,” he said.

"There is no alternative to that agenda of change. So if the DUP are to be part of an agreement they must abandon their anti-agreement agenda.

"If it emerges that the DUP are not up for the challenge then the two governments, and the British government in particular, must move immediately on the human rights, equality, policing and demilitarisation agenda.

"They must stop rewarding negative unionism. They must return to advancing the Good Friday Agreement agenda," added Mr McLaughlin.

Journalist:: Jarlath Kearney

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