Northern Ireland news

Edwin Poots warns of violence on streets if Sinn Féin block first minister appointment

Edwin Poots said he has "serious concerns about the potential for conflict" if Sinn Féin refuse to nominate a deputy first minister

DUP leader Edwin Poots has said peace is "at risk" if Sinn Féin do not nominate a deputy first minister.

Edwin Poots’ remarks come amid an intensifying dispute over the process to replace departing First Minister Arlene Foster.

A stand-off between Sinn Féin and the DUP on the vexed issue of Irish language legislation has the potential to derail the powersharing institutions unless resolution is found in the coming days.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Mr Poots said he is committed to implementing all aspects of the New Decade, New Approach Agreement, including legislation on Irish language.

But he did not confirm whether it will happen during this mandate, saying: "Time will tell."

When Ms Foster formally quits as joint head of the devolved Executive at 1pm today it sets the clock ticking on a seven-day time frame within which the DUP must renominate its chosen successor, Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan.

However, the joint nature of the office Ms Foster shares with Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin means Ms O’Neill must also be renominated to her role within those seven days.

If one of the parties fails to renominate within the time period, a properly functioning executive cannot be formed and the British government assumes a legal responsibility to call a snap Assembly election.

Mr Poots said conditions cannot be attached to nominating a first and deputy first minister.

Read More: Snap election in the offing as Sinn Féin say Edwin Poots 'disingenuous' 

"Setting pre-conditions is not appropriate, it's not respecting someone's mandate, and we cannot be in a circumstance where we have pre-conditions set for the selection of our first minister. And I'm not setting pre-conditions to the selection of Sinn Féin's deputy first minister," he said.

"Our community is at a very tense situation at this moment in time," he added.

"We saw riots on the streets of Belfast earlier this year. And I have serious concerns about the potential for conflict once again on our streets.

"Not only if Sinn Féin do not nominate the deputy first minister are all of those issues not going to be served well, we are putting our very peace at risk as a consequence of that action.

"If Sinn Féin are going to play fast and loose with the very peace that people enjoy at this moment in time, then that is a very, very serious consideration for them to take. Hopefully they won't."

Read More: Ian Paisley has apologised to Robin Swann over Van Morrison rant, says Poots

Yesterday, a simmering row over the process escalated when Sinn Féin made clear it would only engage in the renomination process if it was accompanied by the commencement of legislating for protections for Irish language speakers.

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