Northern Ireland news

Good Friday Agreement could become unsalvageable Sinn Féin warns

The devolved institutions at Stormont have been suspended since former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned two years ago
Michael McHugh, Press Association

The Good Friday peace agreement could become unsalvageable, Sinn Féin has said.

The party called for an end to the political drift which has left Northern Ireland without devolved government for two years.

The former powersharing partners at Stormont, Sinn Féin and the DUP, have blamed each other for the impasse since Martin McGuinness stepped aside.

A senior DUP MLA accused republicans of boycotting the elected body.

Sinn Féin negotiator Conor Murphy said: "It is imperative we arrest the political drift that we are currently in and stop the attempts to unravel the Good Friday Agreement and its political institutions before it becomes unsalvageable."

The 1998 peace accord paved the way for powersharing.

Mr Murphy added: "There is no escaping from the catastrophic course that Westminster and the DUP are charting with a reckless Brexit agenda that is hurtling towards a no-deal crash come March.

"This, along with the ongoing denial of rights to important sections of citizens in the north and vicious austerity cuts imposed from London are wrong and unjust."

The two parties are fundamentally divided over Brexit.

They are also split on issues like official protection for the Irish language.

Mr Murphy added: "Public confidence must be earned and trust rebuilt if the assembly and executive is going to have any credibility."

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons called on Sinn Féin to end its "boycott" of the assembly.

He added: "Two years without a government is not the wish of the DUP.

"We believe in devolution. We want what is best for the people living here and that's having a functioning executive and assembly."

David Sterling, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, said that two years ago he would not have believed the hiatus could continue for so long.

He said: "We are doing everything we can in the prevailing circumstances, continuing to work with partners across the public sector and wider society, but civil servants cannot take the place of ministers when it comes to strategic policy development or in taking transformative decisions that are urgently needed.

"We want to see the executive restored as quickly as possible as there is a clear need for fresh thinking and renewed policy impetus in almost every area."

Following legal delays, civil servants have been given the go-ahead to make major decisions.

They are still guided by ministerial decisions which are now two years out of date and in many cases important policy decisions lie in abeyance.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said recent research to be published by NI Chamber and BDO on Wednesday reveals that its members believe going into 2019 without an Executive is extremely damaging to economic prospects – with more than half predicting a negative impact on their own business.

She added: "Firms are showing particular frustration around the damage caused to regional investment and local decision-making as well as the fact that Northern Ireland has no political voice in the UK/EU negotiations."

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