Colum Eastwood: General election is 'grenade into north's peace process'

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon at Stormont. Picture by Hugh Russell

ATTEMPTS to restore power-sharing have been hit by the announcement of a general election, the SDLP and Sinn Féin have warned.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed Prime Minister Theresa May had thrown a "grenade into the middle" of the peace process by announcing an election and said it will now be "very difficult" for the north's parties to reach an agreement.

Stormont's parties have yet to agree a deal on forming an Executive six weeks after the Assembly election.

Although talks between the parties and the British and Irish governments resumed yesterday after the Easter break, Mr Eastwood said Tuesday's announcement of a general election had thrown the discussions into uncertainty.

He admitted it would be "very difficult" to reach a deal by the early May deadline.

"The British Prime Minister threw a grenade into the middle of our peace process. She has sacrificed the opportunity for progress," he said.

He added: "While Theresa May goes off and tries to destroy the British Labour Party, we still have a job to do in Northern Ireland and we are not about to give up on that.

"It's a pity the British Government thinks so little of Northern Ireland that they call an election in the middle of our talks process."

Sinn Féin's northern leader Michelle O'Neill said the election announcement was about "the Tory party's self interest".

"Theresa May has shown a blatant disregard for the people of the north again," she said.

"We remain committed to trying to find a way through these issues, albeit it is more complicated because of Theresa May's decision."

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said although the announcement of an election during the talks was "unfortunate", his party welcomed Secretary of State James Brokenshire's assurance that the discussions would continue.

"We are ready to form an Executive in Northern Ireland," Mr Dodds said.

"We do not believe in setting red lines and preconditions above issues affecting health, education and the future of our public services. So that Executive is being held up by others."

Mr Brokenshire has said that he will introduce provisions to allow "an Executive to be formed in early May should agreement be reached".

"To have this legislation in force in time, I will be requesting that its progress through parliament be fast-tracked," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said it is "crucial" that the north has functioning institutions.

"Following today's round-table we are now awaiting sight of the legislation the secretary of state has indicated he will bring forward," he said.

"This will give us an indication of the timeframe for the formation of an Executive."

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