Northern Ireland latest: Arlene Foster says there is 'no prospect' of deal to restore Stormont government
There is currently âno prospectâ of an agreement to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster has said.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader called on the UK government to reassert direct rule over the region after admitting there are still âserious and significant differencesâ between her party and Sinn Fein.
Northern Ireland has now been without a regional government for more than a year.
Ms Fosterâs stark warning comes after weeks of talks aimed at breaking the impasse between the parties.
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May urges Northern Irelandâs leaders to make âone final push'
It will be seen as a blow to Theresa May, who trave lled to the region on Monday in an attempt to help seal a deal after it was widely reported that an agreement was close.
The Prime Minister suggested at the time that only "one final push" was needed to reach a deal.
Leo Varadkar, the Irish premier, also cancelled other plans in order to travel to Northern Ireland to try to help broker an agreement.
However, Ms Foster said the negotiations âhave been unsuccessfulâ.
The DUP and Sinn Fein have been unable to reach a compromise on the issue an Irish Language Act, she said.
Sinn Fein wants new legislation to boost the legal status of Gaelic and pave the way for it to be introduced on street signs and in public bodies such as courts. The DUP is opposed to such a move.
Ms Foster said: "For almost four weeks, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations with Sinn Fein. We have attempted to find a stable and sustainable basis for restoring devolution. Those discussions h ave been unsuccessful.
"Despite our best efforts, serious and significant gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Fein especially on the issue of the Irish language.
âI have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand-alone or free standing Irish Language Act. Sinn Feinâs insistence on a stand-alone Irish Language Act means that we have reached an impasse.â
Loughs, Brexit and fishermen in Northern Ireland
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Loughs, Brexit and fishermen in Northern Ireland
Enda Craig, a member of the Loughs Agency Advisory Forum, holds a map of Lough Foyle in Moville, Ireland
Oyster farmer William Lynch puts on his wellington boots on his oyster farm on Lough Foyle in Culmore, Northern Ireland
Women walk along the shores of Carlingford Lough with Northern Ireland seen across the lough in Carlingford
A poster hanging on a wall of a house reads: "No to the ferry", referring to a proposed new car ferry that would run from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland through Carlingford Lough in Greencastle
Skipper Shay Fitzpatrick (L) and boat owner Brian Cunningham navigate out of Warrenpoint harbour into Carlingford Lough in Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland
A woman with flowers walks past an old fuel station in Carlingford, Ireland
A boat is seen at sunset on Carlingford Lough in Greenore, Ireland
A mandries off after swimming in Carlingford Lough in Omeath, Ireland
A derelict house is seen on the shore of Carlingford Lough in Omeath, Ireland
Skipper Shay Fitzpatrick dredges mussels from Carlingford Lough in Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland
Bagged-up farmed oysters at a cleaning facility to get them ready for overseas shipping in Moville, Ireland
A man walks his dog in matching hi-vis outfits on Carlingford Lough in Greenore, Ireland
Carlingford Lough and in the distance Northern Ireland are seen at sunset from Omeath, Ireland
A sign that reads: 'In 1771 nothing happened here' is seen on the shores of Carlingford Lough in Carlingford, Ireland
The DUP leader insisted her party was willing to âreach an accommodationâ on the issue of language and other cultural matters but said the current proposals were not âfair and balancedâ.
She added: âI respect the Irish language and those who speak it but in a shared society this cannot be a one-way street. Respect for the unionist and British identity has not been reciprocated.â
Northern Ireland has now been without a devolved government since January 2017, when power-sharing at the Stormont assembly collapsed.
It was thought an agreement was imminent after Karen Bradley, the new Northern Ireland Secretary, brought all the parties together for fresh talks in a bid to break the impasse.
With the deadlock still in place, however, Ms Foster said it was time for the UK government to take control of Northern Irish affairs.
She said: "In our view, there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed.
"It is now incumbent upon Her Majestyâs Government to set a budget and start making policy decisions about our schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Important decisions impacting on everyone in Northern Ireland have been sitting in limbo for too long.Theresa May says she has urged Northern Irelandâs political leaders to make 'one final push'
Ms Foster said she hoped power-sharing could be restored but had concluded âthat is not possible at this timeâ.
She added: "Restoring a sustainable and fully functioning devolved government will remain our goal but we will not accept a one-sided deal.â
As recriminations began, Sinn Fein accused the DUP of "collapsing" the talks.
Its deputy leader, Michelle O'Neill, said: "Sinn Fein over the past 13 months worked to restore the institutions on the basis of respect, integrity and equality for all sections of society.
"Sinn Fein engaged, we worked in good faith, we stretched ourselves. We had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP.
"The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now collapsed this process."
Calling on the DUP to "reflect on its position", she added: "These issues are not going away."
Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said the talks had made "substantive progress" but the current phase "has reached a conclusion".
She said "the basis for an accommodation still exists" but, raising the prospect of direct rule being reintroduced, said "challenging decisions" would now have to be taken by the UK government.
"I would urge everyone to reflect on the circumstances which have led to this and their positions, both now and in the future," Ms Bradley added.
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