Political news

Stormont talks have failed and there is no prospect of a deal, says DUP

Lesley-Anne McKeown and David Young, Press Association

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said there is no prospect of restoring devolved government.

In a statement, which has effectively torpedoed talks aimed at ending the 13-month impasse at Stormont, Mrs Foster said attempts to find a stable and sustainable resolution had been unsuccessful.

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 majesty's 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. I had dearly hoped that we could have restored an Executive and local ministers could have taken those decisions. That is not possible at this time.

"Northern Ireland is best governed by local ministers who are accountable to local people."

Read more: Q&A - Why is there an impasse over the Irish language?

The Stormont government collapsed last year in a row over a botched green energy scheme.

Since then divisions over issues including Irish language rights, same sex marriage and how to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland's troubled past have proved insurmountable.

Sinn Féin wants a standalone piece of legislation to protect speakers - an Irish language act - but the DUP has long insisted it would only countenance new laws if they also incorporate other cultures, such as Ulster Scots.

Mrs Foster added: "Restoring a sustainable and fully functioning devolved government will remain our goal but we will not accept a one-sided deal.

"Any agreement to restore the Executive must be on a sensible basis. We cannot and will not be held to ransom by those who have refused to form an Executive for over thirteen months."

On Monday British Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadakar travelled to Stormont to encourage the region's parties to finally end the deadlock that has left Northern Ireland without a functioning government since last January.

Mrs May urged them to make "one final push" to strike a deal to salvage powersharing.

Afterwards, Mrs Foster said while the leaders were welcome, their presence proved a "bit of a distraction" as it interrupted negotiations. The DUP leader said the governments had been told in advance of their trip that "the deal wasn't done".

Her statement continued: "I have made it consistently clear that unionists will not countenance a stand alone or free standing Irish Language Act. Sinn Féin's insistence on a stand alone Irish language act means that we have reached an impasse.

"As far back as last summer, I outlined my party's willingness to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues. However, I indicated that any such accommodation must be fair, balanced and capable of commanding support on all sides of our community. At the moment, we do not have a fair and balanced package."

Respect for the unionist and British identity had "not been reciprocated", she claimed.

In a statement Michelle O'Neill said: "Sinn Féin over the past 13 months worked to restore the institutions on the basis of respect, integrity and equality for all sections of society.

"When this latest round of talks was announced in January, I said a short, sharp and focused negotiation was required to resolve the outstanding issues of rights and equality available everywhere else in the islands.

"Sinn Féin 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.

"These issues are not going away. Sinn Féin are now in contact with both governments and we will set out our considered position tomorrow.

"The DUP should reflect on their position."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood expressed anger and disappointment at the statement.

He said: "We have to get back to working together. We have to not allow this moment to be the destruction of all that we have achieved."

He said: "Equally we can't 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.

"The spirit which underpins the Good Friday Agreement is one that recognises we have two communities here, two nationalities, two sets of allegiances and we have to have that recognised in anything that goes after this."

Mr Eastwood said they would be making it clear to "anyone who will listen" that it could not be the "DUP having the whip hand".

The SDLP leader warned that if the institutions fall, it would be "very, very difficult" to get them back up and running.

"It's easy to pull this place down. It's not that easy to put it back together again."

He was also hugely critical of the British government's handling of the political crisis.

Mr Eastwood added: "They have allowed two parties to have complete cover, to have complete control over this process, they have not involved anybody else, it hasn't been transparent.

DUP negotiator Simon Hamilton said Theresa May's visit to Belfast on Monday was unhelpful and a "distraction" from the now-collapsed powersharing talks.

He told reporters: "I think the visit of the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach acted as a bit of a distraction at the beginning of the week, I don't think it was entirely helpful in getting us to reach a successful conclusion but regardless of the intervention, unsuccessful as it was of both prime ministers, significant and serious gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Fein."

Asked if the DUP asked Mrs May not to go to Belfast at such a sensitive stage in talks and why she ignored the advice, Mr Hamilton said: "I am sure as all prime ministers get advice from time to time and they can take that advice or they can ignore that advice.

"Certainly in our view it acted as a distraction, we were unable to build on the progress that we had been making at the end of last week, and I think we have, as I have said before, run out of road in respect of this process."

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said: "We are in a very precarious position at this point in time, essentially in uncharted territory.

"We have now no prospect of a deal but also no process in place that could lead to a deal nor do we have any indication of willingness by parties to continue any such process."

She said political investment in devolution had been "swept away" over the most "minor of differences".

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann called for further clarity.

He said: "We need to know and what Northern Ireland clearly needs to know, is the door to devolution now firmly closed or is there still a possibility of it being open?"

And, if Westminster had to impose a budget then go ahead, he added.

"If her majesty's government needs to bring in a budget now, let them do it," said Mr Swann.

"They have done it before. So if they need to run a budget so be it, let's get on with it and let's do what we can to get Northern Ireland back up and running again."

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the DUP's announcement was very disappointing.

"The Secretary of State (Karen Bradley) and I have spoken and will remain in close contact and I am briefing the Taoiseach on developments.

"As co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, the UK and Irish governments have an obligation to uphold and protect the letter and spirit of that agreement.

"We will need to reflect in the coming days on how best to do that."

 

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