Northern Ireland news

Video: Arlene Foster: Sinn Fein were not in 'agreement-finding mode'

David Young and Michael McHugh, Press Association

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Sinn Fein's "inflexible" approach to negotiations was to blame after negoiations for a new powersharing government collapsed.

A scheduled sitting of the Stormont Assembly to nominate new leading ministers was axed today after agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP could not be reached.

"We wonder whether Sinn Fein were serious about reaching agreement at this time," said the former first minister.

"We are just disappointed that Sinn Fein did not come to the talks in the same spirit as we came to the talks.

"We respect everybody's mandates, let me make that very clear, but if we wanted to form an executive, then there had to be a spirit of compromise and unfortunately that didn't exist."

After 4pm if not deal is reached, focus will shift to Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire.

Under legislation he is required to call another snap election if the deadline passes.

However, he is not obliged to set a poll date immediately, rather within a "reasonable period".

Mr Brokenshire may therefore delay calling an election to give a few more weeks to reach consensus.

He could countenance the nuclear option of reintroducing direct rule from Westminster, but that move - which would require emergency legislation - looks unlikely at this stage.

Mrs Foster claimed while her party entered talks in "good faith", Sinn Fein were not in "agreement-finding mode".

"These talks did not fail because of a lack of time, these talks failed because there wasn't a recognition of everyone's mandates and there wasn't a spirit of compromise to get back into the executive," she said.

Noting potential cuts to public services if the civil service takes control of a reduced budget allocation, the DUP leader accused the republican party of putting its "narrow political agenda" above people's livelihoods.

"The government of Northern Ireland is not a game, it is actually very serious and the fact we do not have an executive being formed today is very regrettable," she added.

The DUP leader said she did not believe another election would solve anything.

A symbolic handshake between Mrs Foster and Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill at the funeral of Mr McGuinness last week had raised some expectation the talks might end more positively.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Sinn Fein had not followed through on the gesture.

"That handshake represented a reaching-out but the inclusivity that that represents was not then carried forward into the talks," he said.

Sinn Féin leader in the north Michelle O'Neill shakes hands with DUP leader Arlene Foster. Picture from Darran Marshall, BBC

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll has called for MLA’s pay to be slashed a after a powersharing government collapsed. 

The decision of the party whips to pull the plenary makes it all but inevitable that Monday's 4pm deadline for forming an executive will pass without agreement.

Mr Carroll said: “Obviously no deal has been struck at Stormont and by the looks of it, the Assembly won’t be up and running anytime soon. Many people are concerned about this, and a lot of them are worried about funding and job losses...

“If a deal cannot be made over the next few weeks that sees movement and progress around key issues, then people will be questioning whether or not MLAs should continue to be paid their full wage.’

“If a school was closed down, teachers wouldn’t expect to be paid. Similarly, if a hospital is shut, the state does not continue to pay health workers.

West Belfast MLA Gerry Carroll said: “If a school was closed down, teachers wouldn’t expect to be paid. Similarly, if a hospital is shut, the state does not continue to pay health workers." Picture by Michael McHugh/PA Wire

Talks collapsed on Sunday night after Sinn Fein announced it would not be nominating a deputy first minister in the Assembly on Monday.

Without both first and deputy first ministers it is impossible to form an executive.

In the absence of a functioning devolved government, a senior civil servant is set to take control of the region's public finances on Wednesday, albeit with limits on his spending powers.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew voted against axing the Assembly sitting in the whips' meeting.

"Today was an opportunity to explain to the public what has been happening since the election, since they gave us a resounding mandate to get the Assembly and institutions back up and running," he said.

"That opportunity has been wasted and an agreement among the parties to not hold the sitting today denies that openness, that transparency and that accountability."

Powersharing collapsed in January after a row over a botched green energy scheme estimated to cost the taxpayer up to half a billion pounds.

The late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in protest over the Democratic Unionists' handling of the scheme, triggering crisis in the institutions.

Sinn Fein has said it will not share power with Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster as first minister until a public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme is concluded.

Sinn Fein's leader at Stormont Michelle O'Neill and the party's president Gerry Adams speak to the media at Stormont Castle in Belfast, as powersharing talks have broken down after Sinn Fein withdrew 

Republicans have also been seeking movement on issues such as an Irish language act giving the tongue official status in Northern Ireland, a hugely symbolic measure but deeply problematic for some unionists.

New mechanisms for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles also remain a source of vexed dispute.

A voting surge by Sinn Fein in the snap Assembly election earlier this month saw the party come within one seat of becoming the biggest party at Stormont behind the DUP.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news