Political news

Video: Sinn Féin and DUP blame each other for talks breakdown

David Young and Michael McHugh, Press Association
27 March, 2017 14:40

Sinn Fein and the DUP  have blamed each other for the breakdown of powersharing talks that has pushed Stormont's beleaguered devolved institutions further into crisis.

A scheduled sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly to nominate new leading ministers was axed today after the negotiations to form a new coalition executive collapsed on Sunday night.

It is all but inevitable that Monday's 4pm deadline for establishing an executive will pass without agreement, opening the possibility of yet another set-piece negotiation process; a further snap election; or even the re-imposition of direct rule from Westminster.

DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed Sinn Fein's "inflexible" approach to negotiations was to blame.

She said she did not believe another election would solve anything.

"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.

"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."

Amid the trading of recriminations, Mrs O'Neill offered a very different view on culpability. She claimed the DUP had failed to live up to previous agreements and were standing in the way of progressive policies.

"We are standing firm - previous agreements need to be implemented," she said.

"We came at the negotiations with the right attitude, wanting to make the institutions work, wanting to deliver for all citizens.

"Unfortunately, the DUP maintained their position in relation to blocking equality, delivery of equality for citizens - that was the problem."

Focus has now shifted 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, but that move, which would require emergency legislation, looks unlikely at this stage.

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.

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 DUP's handling of the scheme, triggering crisis in the institutions.

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

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.

During the negotiations, it is understood the DUP sought progress on implementing the Military Covenant in Northern Ireland - a framework that defines the state's obligations to serving and former members of the Armed Forces - as part of potential new legislation that would also offer more protections for both Irish and Ulster Scots speakers.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood reiterated his call for the appointment of an independent mediator to facilitate talks.

"We are saying again today that there has to be a new process and there has to be a chairperson that can pull all this together," he said.

Outgoing UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the talks process was a "shambles".

Referring to the prospect of the permanent secretary of the Finance Department taking control of Stormont spending, he said an "unelected civil servant" was about to become "arguably the most important man in Northern Ireland".

He questioned why there had been no round table meeting of all the parties during the negotiations.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the lack of politically agreed budget would have a serious impact on the community.

"It is unthinkable that we would see a project that is 25 years of investment, of time and energy and hope for this community being destroyed in the way that it has been over recent months," she said.

"We cannot throw it away lightly, we must not throw it away lightly and it is now time for us to redouble our efforts and ensure that a deal will be reached."

Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party leader, said: "It is patently obvious that Sinn Fein has a different and alternative agenda other than making Northern Ireland work."

Green Party leader Steven Agnew sais: “I feel angry. Angry for the people who will lose their jobs as there is still no budget. Angry for the victims who have once again been failed. And angry for the people of Northern Ireland who deserve better.

“It’s time for the DUP and Sinn Fein to step up and deliver. If they do not and another election is necessary, I hope they will be punished at the polls.”

27 March, 2017 14:40 Political news