Belfast Telegraph

PM May sacrificed Northern Ireland peace process to win election, claims SDLP's Eastwood

By Noel McAdam

Theresa May has been accused of throwing “a grenade into the middle” of the peace process by calling a snap election.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the Prime Minister had sacrificed the chance of progress as part of her mission to destroy the Labour Party.

It came as Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill claimed the PM had shown a “blatant disregard” to the people of Northern Ireland.

Yesterday the leaders of the five main parties met ahead of a resumption of bilateral meetings to restore devolution.

However, Mr Eastwood said that by calling an election, Mrs May had made it “very difficult” to reach a deal by the deadline of early May.

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

“That doesn’t mean we are walking away, we are still here. We will keep meeting until we can get this power-sharing establishment up and running.

“The British Government seems to have walked away from it. They need to get back around the table.”

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.”

Ms O’Neill said the Prime Minister’s announcement was about “the Tory party’s self interest”.

Ms O’Neill added: “She has shown a blatant disregard for the people of the North once again.

“Sinn Fein is ready to fight this election. We will go out and engage with the public who voted in the majority to stay in the European Union.

“This election is not about Orange and Green, it is about Brexit and opposition to the Tory party’s policies.”

Mrs May’s surprise election announcement appeared to have injected some impetus at Stormont, where full round-table meetings had not been expected to begin until next Monday.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the announcement during the discussions was “unfortunate”, but insisted his party was still ready to form an Executive.

“However, party colleague Ian Paisley said he believed Stormont will remain in cold storage for some time.

He said: “I think the deep frost button has been pressed on the Assembly and once the freezer bags come out, it will remain in cold storage.

“It is very sad, and it saddens me to even say that, but it is where we are I’m afraid.

“Once you start to dismantle the apparatus of a devolved government, it is very difficult to begin putting them back into place. It can take a long time.

“My party is willing to form an Executive tonight, but Sinn Fein has not been willing to get devolution up and running again.”

The North Antrim MP said even after the June 8 election, it could prove difficult to get the negotiations going.

By mid-June, Northern Ireland will be moving towards the height of the marching season.

He added: “We do have these perennials which can cause us problems, but it is Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein who have missed the boat here.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the parties are now waiting to see the legislation Mr Brokenshire intends to fast-track through Parliament before it is dissolved on May 3.

These could include allowing the rates to be collected and setting budgets for at least some government departments including health and education.

“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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