Talks to restore power-sharing government in Northern Ireland collapse
Northern Ireland Talks to restore power-sharing government in Northern Ireland collapse
DUP says it will not compromise with Sinn FÃ©in and accuses Theresa May of making âunhelpfulâ visit to Belfast
Talks to restore the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland dramatically collapsed on Wednesday, as the DUP said there was no prospect of a compromise with Sinn FÃ©in and accused Theresa May of an unhelpf ul and distracting visit to Belfast earlier this week.
In an extraordinary broadside at the prime minister, whose Conservative party has a confidence deal with the DUP in parliament, the partyâs negotiator Simon Hamilton said Mayâs visit to Stormont on Monday with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had given a false sense of progress and was not âentirely helpfulâ.
âRegardless of the intervention, unsuccessful as it was of both prime ministers, significant and serious gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn FÃ©in,â he said.
Hamiltonâs sentiment echoed that of DUP leader Arlene Foster who signalled on Tuesday that talks to restore power-sharing government in Northern Ireland were in trouble. British and Irish government sources had been briefing since the weekend that a deal to narrow the gap between the parties was imminent.
On Wednesday, Foster said there was no current prospect of a compromise between her party and Sinn FÃ©in. The former first mi nister and her party have been shaken by the level of opposition within the DUP and in the wider unionist community over any deal that would include a standalone Irish language act as demanded by Sinn FÃ©in, party sources said on Wednesday.
Foster said there were too many significant gaps between the two main parties to reach a settlement and it was now up to central government in London to impose a budget on Northern Ireland to allow regional departments to function.
She said the DUP would continue to aim to restore devolved government but that her party would not accept a âone-sided dealâ.
Foster continued: âFor almost four weeks, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations with Sinn FÃ©in. We have attempted to find a stable and sustainable basis for restoring devolution. Those discussions have been unsuccessful.
âDespite our best efforts, serious and significant gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn FÃ©in, especially on the issue of the Iri sh language.â
Michelle OâNeill, Sinn FÃ©inâs leader in the deadlocked Northern Ireland Assembly, said her party âworked in good faith, we stretched ourselvesâ and indicated they too had believed a deal was close.
âWe had reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP. The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now collapsed this process. These issues are not going away,â she said. âSinn FÃ©in are now in contact with both governments and we will set out our considered position tomorrow. The DUP should reflect on their position.â
Labourâs Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith said the DUPâs comments about the prime minister were embarrassing. âTheresa May has been humiliated by the DUP,â he said. âShe turned up in Belfast on Monday expecting to cut the ribbon on a new deal but the DUP had clearly decided they werenât prepared to do a deal which would support the Irish language or marriage equality in Northern Ireland. In the twentieth year of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland is being badly let down by the Tory-DUP axis.â
Downing Street played down the rift with their supply-and-confidence partners. Sources said the UK government was hopeful a deal could still be thrashed out, pointing to Fosterâs comments that restoring devolved government âwill remain our goalâ.
Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley said the UK government now had to make some âchallenging decisionsâ but stressed they still wanted to deliver a functional executive. âI would urge everyone to reflect on the circumstances that have led to this, and their positions, both now and in the future,â she said.
âWe now need to consider practical steps. In the continued absence of an executive, other challenging decisions will have to be taken by the UK government.â
The leader of the smaller nationalist SDLP party Colum Eastwood said Northern Irish politicians could not allow the breakd own of talks âto be the destruction of all that we have achievedâ.
âEqually we canât allow this British government or this DUP to think that they are going to govern Northern Ireland on their own. That cannot be allowed to happen,â he said.
Through 13 months of stop-start negotiations involving the DUP and Sinn FÃ©in, the latterâs core demand has been the drafting of an Irish language act that would give Gaelic the same legal status as English throughout Northern Ireland.
Hardline unionists have portrayed the act as forcing compulsory Irish on the unionist community, including bilingual street signs in and around pro-union areas of Northern Ireland.
The whipping up of unionist fears about their Britishness being âhollowed outâ via such legislation has struck a chord with the wider unionist population, one DUP source said. The partyâs high command was shocked at the level of grassroots opposition to a language act.
The original rea son for the collapse of the last power-sharing executive in Belfast was a controversial green energy scheme, which saw its multimillion-pound costs to the taxpayer spiral out of control.
Because Foster and the DUP had championed the renewable heat incentive, their key partners in that government asked that she step aside temporarily from the first ministerâs office so an inquiry could be held into the scheme.
When Foster refused to stand down the deputy first minister at the time, the late Martin McGuinness, resigned. Under the rules of power sharing, if one main representative from the two divided communities in Northern Ireland resigns from office, then the whole devolved edifice collapses.Topics
- Northern Ireland
- Arlene Foster
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